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Preventing Acid Attack

What is acid attack on teeth?

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in the mouth using sugar from foods and drinks to produce acids that dissolve and damage the teeth.

Every time we eat, our teeth are exposed to an acid attack. The bacteria in our mouths produces plaque this ferment the food to make acid, and if teeth are exposed to this acid long enough cavities develop - this is known as tooth decay. Consumption of sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis is the number one cause of tooth decay.

Sometimes people may not know they are harming teeth by the food they eat. In fact the scariest part is that many snacks that are marketed as ‘healthy’ are actually high in sugar and get stuck in teeth, increasing acid attacks which cause decay. Because parents think these snacks are healthy, they often allow their children to graze on them all day which makes things worse. Some of the major ‘healthy’ snack culprits are: dried fruit, biscuits (sweet and savoury), fruit juice, muesli bars, children’s cereals, flavoured milk, sweetened yoghurt, fruit bars, fruit slice, flavoured popcorn, canned fruit, baked goods and banana bread.

It’s not all bad news. The Australia Dental Association is not saying that your children should never be allowed to eat these foods again. Rather, when choosing snacks, be aware of how much sugar is in them, but more importantly, reduce the number of times they eat these foods and make sure they are eaten in one go and preferably as part of a meal rather than throughout the day.

The Re-think Your Sugary Drink campaign is designed to educate children and adults about the health benefits of drinking water Vs sugary drinks.

Soft Drinks often referred to as "Cool Drinks" are known to be high in sugar and bad for your dental health but other drinks disguised as health drinks should also be avoided. Sports Drinks and Fruits Juices are high in sugar and should be used occasionally not as a replacement for water.

Fruit juice, which by law must have more than 95% juice, can offer other nutritional benefits such as vitamin C and other nutrients. A standard serve of fruit juice is 125ml or ½ cup, according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines. If you have juice, limit it to this amount or better still, drink water and eat the whole fruit instead – it's more filling and has the added benefit of fibre.

How often can I consume sugary foods or drinks?

When you eat or drinks sugar, the bacteria in your mouth mix with the sugars to make a mild acid. This acid attacks the hard outer layer of the teeth and over time can cause cavities. If you eat lots of sugary snacks, you are continually topping up the levels of acid in your mouth.

The more times a day you eat or drink something sugary, and the longer the sugar stays in your mouth, the more likely it is that damage will occur.

Try to restrict sweet food and drink to less than four times a day, as part of three meals and one snack. A small slice of cake or a piece of chocolate to finish off a meal is less harmful to teeth than a lollipop that your toddler sucks all afternoon. If you consume sugary drinks throughout the day this adds to the acid attack.

Cakes and other high-sugar foods, even if they're homemade, can be just as damaging as sugary sweets.

Sultanas, raisins, dates and other dried fruits (whether loose or in bars) can cling to and harm teeth, even though they're a healthier option than sweets. You should eat these as part of a meal, rather than as a snack.

Chewy sweets are worst of all, as they stick to the teeth and stay in the gaps until the next thorough brushing, or sometimes longer.

What foods should I be eating instead?

To have healthy teeth you should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and include calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, which is needed to grow strong bones and teeth. Dairy products such as cheese are good sources of calcium. And there's vitamin D in milk, oily fish, eggs, and fortified foods such as margarine and breakfast cereals.

Tooth-friendly snacks are:

  • fresh fruit or vegetables
  • cubes or slices of cheese
  • plain yoghurt
  • plain popcorn
  • plain rice cakes
  • nuts
  • roasted chickpeas
  • water and milk are the best drinks between meals.

Eating a small piece of cheese after finishing any sweets helps neutralise the sugars, and make sure that your next teeth-cleaning session is thorough.