You might rethink some of your regular snacks.

Zoe Ferguson
July 28, 2017

You know candy leads to cavities, and wine can stain your pearly whites. But it turns out there are a host of other (seemingly harmless) foods that can wreak havoc on your oral hygiene if you have them on the reg. Here, four dentists share the surprising teeth-harming culprits they try to avoid.

Sunflower seeds

The seed itself is not bad for your choppers—it's the hull that's the problem, says Tyrone Rodriguez, DDS, a dentist in Washington State. "The fact that it has a hard outer shell, and you're trying to bite through that shell, that can cause damage," explains Rodriguez, who has had patients come in with cracked teeth(!) from chewing on sunflower seeds. If you're a fan of the protein-packed snack, opt for hulled seeds.

Ice cubes

Keep the cold stuff in your glass, dentists warn. Chewing on ice is a bad idea because tooth enamel and ice are both made up of crystals, says Matthew Messina, DDS, a dentist based in Fairview Park, Ohio. "When you push two crystals against each other with enough force, one is going to break," he explains. Rodriguez puts it another way: "If ice can damage highways, imagine what it can do to your teeth." Point taken.

RELATED: The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth

Flavored waters and seltzer

Even if the flavoring is sugar-free, that doesn't mean it's acid-free, says Rodriguez. Some flavored waters and seltzers contain citric acid, which is a common culprit of enamel erosion. "Once your enamel gets worn away, it will never come back," adds Genaro Romo, DDS, a dentist based in Chicago. As the protective layer erodes, it leaves your teeth vulnerable to not only cavities and decay, but chips and sensitivity as well. 

Dried fruit

Yes, dried fruit is full of fiber and vitamins. But there are cons to dehydrating sweet produce: "When you pull the water out, what's left behind is concentrated sugar and acid, and the fruit itself becomes a lot stickier," Rodriguez explains. Raisins and dried cherries can stick in the grooves and crevices in your teeth; and all the while, bacteria in your mouth feast on that deposited sugar. Those bacteria produce acid, which then dissolves your enamel and causes cavities.

Gummy vitamins

"Everyone thinks gummies are okay," says Rodriguez. But the sweet and sticky vitamins aren't much better for your teeth than candy. Instead, Rodriguez recommends chewable vitamins, or even liquid versions: "You can take a few drops and add it to beverages or food," he says.

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Potato chips

Chips are sneaky, says Alice Boghosian, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Like dried fruit and gummies, they adhere to your teeth. "It's something you don't think about," she says.

The starch in the potatoes turns to sugar, and the sugar gets metabolized into acid. If you enjoy a bag of chips now and again, make sure you wash them down with lots of water, and consider flossing afterwards, says Romo. "My suggestion, as a dentist, is always to make sure that when you're done eating, you're actually done; you're not leaving anything behind," he says. Cleaning your teeth right after a sticky snack is the way to avoid decay.

Sports drinks

Sure, they replenish electrolytes after a long workout, but don't forget they're loaded with sugar. "It's one thing to have a sports drink every once in a while," says Romo. "But if [it's part of your] daily workout routine, read the ingredients—you'd be surprised at some of these drinks, how much sugar they have," says Romo. "I always tell my patients to go with the safest thing, which is water. Water is all you really need."

Alcohol

Aside from the staining and the sugar, alcohol dries out your mouth, and that makes you more prone to cavities. "There's a reason why your mouth salivates," says Romo. "[Saliva] washes your mouth, it keeps everything clean, and it neutralizes the mouth so it's not acidic." But that doesn't mean you need to swear off booze all together, he adds. "With alcohol, moderation is the key."