Keeping Your Teeth Healthy Eating Out

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Taro-Shiba-Inu

Going out to eat is a great way to explore new locales, catch up with friends and enjoy unique flavors you may not get to experience in the comfort of your own home.

Restaurant menus often have choices listed by how good they are for your waistline. Sadly, what you will not see, is a way to denote foods that are good for your gum-line. That makes us dentists cry, and it should make you cry too.

But instead of crying (I’m fine, really, I just have…seasonal allergies), let’s try and find out the best way to protect your teeth eating out.

1. Sweet Erooooooooosion

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Sugar is as tasty to you as it is to the bacteria in your mouth. Those bacteria wouldn’t be horrible if they didn’t burn that sugar into acid through their digestion process. That acid eats away at your tooth enamel and causes cavities.

So high sugar items like cheesecake, pie, milkshakes, ice cream, etc… should be ordered and practiced with thoughtful portion control. Even those sugar-free dessert options often contain other acids in place of sugar which lead to dental erosion, or the gradual decalcification of your teeth.

Tooth Erosion
Pictured: Tooth erosion

2. Fall in love with a great salad

Let’s face it, ordering a salad for a meal is kind of an exhausted joke. It may save your teeth, however, as vegetables present in salads such as broccoli contain scrubbing fibers. This fiber helps reduce inflammation in your mouth and cleans and polishes your teeth as you chew it.

Additional salad toppings like raisins, nuts and fruit help promote salivation which is a natural mouth-cleaning process.

3. Beware of pickles’ devilish charm

Pickles are a popular sidekick. Whether you’re topping your burger, your hot dog or eating a sliver alongside a sandwich. You can even bring a jar of whole pickles to a party and you’ll be the snack hero.

We’re not here to tell you to completely give up pickles. When eating out, however, minimize their acidic impact by reconsidering that slice served on the side of the plate, or the pile on the burger.

Wait, pickles are acidic?

The same liquid that make cucumbers into pickles makes pickles not a perfect preference for your pearly whites. So if you’re a frequent pickle person, you may want to think about cutting back a little bit.

4. The law of beverages

“Can I get you something to drink?” It’s always the first question they ask and it can be tempting in a state of hunger or hanger to think with your belly and not your teeth/mind on this one.

Hungry hippos game
Just like the Hungry Hungry Hippos, you will never truly be satisfied with empty calories.

Because beverages liquid state allows them to seep into cracks and crevices between your teeth, being mindful of what’s in them and how it affects your oral health is important. For instance, did you know that green tea is great for your teeth.

The good

It sounds counter-intuitive, but green and black teas contain polyphenols, compounds that slow the growth of bad, gum-disease-causing bacterias. In fact, a study done by the University of Chicago found that black tea was actually more effective as a mouthwash at preventing plaque than water!

Speaking of water, water is great for your mouth. It keeps things moving through and prevents buildup of sugars and nasty, delicious-to-bad-bacteria food matter. Extra points if the water is fluoridated, as most water you will find served at restaurants will be.

The bad

What about bad beverages? When it comes to drinks, carbonated sodas and soft drinks are the worst for your mouth. Not only do they have a ton of sugar (or preservatives), but most contain phosphoric or citric acid which is proven to wear away tooth enamel. Ugh

The ugly

A good rule about drinks is this: “If you would get in trouble for spilling it on your boss’s suit, don’t spill it on your teeth.” Drinks like wine contain chromogens. You may recognize the word chroma- the Greek prefix for color. And that’s exactly what red wine will do to your teeth – color them red.

Also, tannins present in red wine dry out your mouth. Where as a wet mouth might look to bacteria like an overpriced ranch style house on the outskirts of town with no good schools close by, once you dry it out, your mouth becomes a beautiful Cape Cod in the city priced to sell with four bathrooms and a three-car garage.

If that wasn’t bad enough, red wines contain acid that can erode your teeth. So while they may be good for your heart, you will want to be thoughtful about regular consumption as red wine can and will leave your mouth unhappy.

5. Forgive yourself and carry some gum*

Above all, not beating yourself up about decisions is the number one way to make great habits stick around. While refined, sticky sugars are almost always not a great choice, most of the other items on this list are things you can indulge in from time to time with little consequence.

Diner in Brussels, Belgium
Fact: This restaurant in Brussels, Belgium only serves waffles.
Image credit to William Murphy | Flickr

So don’t get too upset if you have a glass of wine with your risotto, or enjoy that slice of pickle garnish on your dinner plate. Making some foods bad and others good is the quickest way to derail any interest in eating for a healthier, whiter smile.

Also, sugar free gum goes a long way after a meal. Gum promotes salivation which helps naturally clean your teeth. So if you can’t brush and floss right after a meal, a piece of sugar free gum will tide you over until you can.

Eat well, eat healthy and let your food give you a smile that nothing can take away.

Worried about your oral health? Get a complete dental exam and ask your dentist about protecting your teeth.

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