8 Surprising Foods That Are Bad for Your Teeth

You might rethink some of your regular snacks.

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 regularly. Here, four dentists share the surprising teeth-harming culprits they try to avoid.

Sunflower Seeds

The seed itself is not bad for your teeth—it's the hull that's the problem, said 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," Rodriguez explained. He 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 warned. Chewing on ice is a bad idea because tooth enamel and ice are both made up of crystals, said 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," Messina explained. Rodriguez put it another way: "If ice can damage highways, imagine what it can do to your teeth."

Flavored Waters and Seltzer

Even if the flavoring is sugar-free, that doesn't mean it's acid-free, Rodriguez said. 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," said 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.

A November 2017 study published in the Korean Journal of Orthodontics showed that higher carbonation led to more enamel erosion, but adding calcium to the water reduced (though not eliminated) this effect. Calcium is a mineral salt found in some sparkling water brands.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is full of fiber and vitamins. But there are possible 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 explained. The theory is that raisins and dried cherries may stick in the grooves and crevices in your teeth. Bacteria in your mouth could feast on that deposited sugar. Those bacteria produce acid, which then dissolves your enamel and causes cavities.

However, a July 2016 paper published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition noted that more research was needed to support this claim. The paper also noted that dried fruit has nutritional benefits, contains anti-microbial substances, and a provides a possible dental benefit of more chewing.

Gummy Vitamins

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

Potato Chips

Chips are sneaky, said 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," Boghosian said.

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 afterward, Romo said. "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," Romo said. 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," Romo said. "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," Romo said. "I always tell my patients to go with the safest thing, which is water. Water is all you really need."


Aside from the staining and the sugar, alcohol dries out your mouth, and that makes you more prone to cavities. People with alcohol dependence may be at a higher risk of gum disease as well, per a June 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research.

"There's a reason why your mouth salivates," Romo said. "[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 alcohol altogether, Romo added. "With alcohol, moderation is the key."

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