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Food & Drink

Oral Cancer and Whole Foods Plant Based Diet
©Elena Schweitzer/

37,000 people are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer every year.  That’s more than 100 people per day. Only an estimated half of those diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer will be alive in five years.

Guess how many people die from oral cancer every single day.  24 (Source: American Cancer Foundation.)

Oral Cancer Prevention and a Plant Based DietGuess how many of those 24 people could have saved their lives by eating better and exercising.  8.

That’s nearly 3,000 people every year who could have lived longer had they only made a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

This article from the American Cancer Society’s Journal states, “Evidence suggests that one third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits, with another third due to cigarette smoking. Although genetic inheritance influences the risk of cancer, and cancer arises from genetic mutations in cells, most of the variation in cancer risk across populations and among individuals is due to factors that are not inherited. Behavioral factors such as smoking cigarettes, consuming foods along certain patterns of diet, and staying active across the lifespan can substantially affect one’s risk of developing cancer.”

Dietary Recommendations for the Prevention of Oral Cancer

Last week I was doing an externship at a rural dental clinic.  During some down time, I picked up a copy of the February 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.  The article Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer really caught my eye.  My dad passed away from cancer when I was 17.  I’ve always been worried that someday I would end up with cancer too, so the prevention of cancer is something that interests me.

The authors concluded that swapping your regular American diet for a plant-based diet with more whole foods can go a long way in lowering your risk for oral cancer.  They state the following:

Evidence supports a recommendation of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a whole-foods, plant-based diet, with limited consumption of meat, particularly processed meat. However, use of dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals and other bioactive compounds) in the absence of deficiencies has not been shown to confer the same benefits as those of fruits and vegetables, and patients should not use them as a substitute for fruit and vegetable consumption.

The 2011 Cancer Prevention & Early Detection PDF Booklet from the American Cancer Society contains the following recommendations on page 17 that seem to echo the findings above.  The booklet includes these suggestions:

  • Consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources.
  • Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat 5 or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.
  • Limit consumption of processed and red meats.
  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, if you drink them. (Have no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men.)

In 2002, researchers looked at many of the different studies relating diet and oral cancer.  They published their results in this paper.  Here’s an excerpt of their findings:

On the basis of the findings from the listed studies, there is enough evidence to point to a preventive role of vegetable intake, including green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and yellow vegetables, total fruit intake, and citrus fruit intake in oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal cancer development. Yellow fruits are likely to be protective. Carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E are protective, most likely in combination with each other and other micronutrients. The role of vitamin A is not clear because of conflicting findings in the studies reviewed.

These three sources all seem to agree that foods from plant sources have a preventive effect on the development of oral cancer.  However, there are some foods that can increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

What Foods Increase the Risk of Oral Cancer?

Here’s another quote from the article Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer that I referenced above:

Researchers have found that consumption of salted meat, processed meat and animal fat increases the risk of developing oral cancer. The results of a study conducted by Peters and colleagues showed that high consumption of dairy products is a risk factor for head and neck squamous cell cancers.

Based on the study above, the following foods increase your risk of developing oral cancer:

  • Salted Meat
  • Processed Meat
  • Animal Fat
  • Dairy Products at a High Consumption Rate


In essence, foods that originate from plant sources help decrease your risk of oral cancer, and foods from animal sources increase your risk for developing oral cancer.

If your diet looks similar to foods below, you’re probably doing a good job of lowering your risk for developing oral cancer.

Plant Based Diet and Oral Cancer

If oral cancer can be prevented so easily, isn’t it worth it to make some subtle changes to your diet?

Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns about how your diet can affect your risk of developing oral cancer?  I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Chewing Gum Good for Teeth
©Lucky Business/

You may have heard that chewing gum is bad for your teeth and that chewing gum is good for your teeth.  So what’s the answer?

Chewing Gum Can Help Fight CavitiesChewing gum can be good and bad for your teeth depending on what type of gum you chew.

Gum can basically be classified into three different types based on how it is sweetened:

1 – Gum that is sweetened the old-fashioned way – with sugar.

2 – Gum that is sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

3 – Gum that is sweetened with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol.

Let’s take a look at all of these types of gum and how they affect your teeth.

Chewing Gum Sweetened with Sugar and Your Teeth

Super Bubble Chewing Gum - Sweetened With SugarWhen you chew gum sweetened with sugar, there are basically two phases.  In the first phase, which can last for 10 minutes or more, you are releasing sugar from the gum into your mouth.  The bacteria in your plaque love to feed on the sugar found in sugary chewing gum and hurt your teeth.  The sugar in chewing gum sweetened with sugar can stick around in your mouth for a long time and continue to feed the bacteria that live on your teeth, allowing them to harm your teeth.

After a certain amount of time has passed, you will enter the second phase of chewing sugary gum as you will have swallowed all of the sugar in the chewing gum.  Because the act of chewing causes you to make more spit, the chewing gum is usually able to promote re-mineralization of your teeth’s enamel after all of the sugar has left your mouth.

Chewing Gum Sweetened with Artificial Sweeteners

If you chew gum sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or Sucralose, you will eliminate the first phase of chewing sugary gum that I mentioned above.  You will simply be stimulating the flow of saliva in your mouth.  This is a good thing because saliva can protect your teeth in many ways.

The textbook Dental Caries by Ole Fejerskov states, “Sugar-free chewing gum, in addition to being sweetened with non-cariogenic sweeteners, provides a gustatory and mechanical antidepressants stimulus to salivary flow and therefore may be considered as cariostatic.   Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes following a meal or snack has been shown to accelerate the return to resting oral pH.”

Basically, Ole is saying that when you chew gum that doesn’t have sugar, it stimulates the flow of saliva due to the wonderful taste of the gum and because of the chewing action.  If you chew gum after you eat a meal, it will help your mouth return to an optimal pH.  If you’re not sure what that means, you can about what happens in your mouth every time you eat or drink.

Chewing Gum Sweetened with Sugar Alcohols

The last main type of chewing gum is the gum that is sweetened with sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol.  Xylitol has been shown to help fight against the bacteria that eat away your teeth.

Learn more about how xylitol protects your teeth!

Trident Chewing Gum that Contains XylitolChewing gum that contains xylitol is like the holy grail of chewing gum when it comes to your oral health!  When you chew gum that contains xylitol, you get all of the benefits of chewing sugar-free gum mentioned above.  In addition to those benefits, you get the cavity-fighting power of xylitol.

What more could you ask for in a little piece piece of gum?

If you’re wondering where to find it, xylitol is found in a variety of chewing gums, such as the  Trident gum pictured to the right.  You can make sure that the gum you chew contains xylitol by checking on the ingredient list on the back of the package.


In summary, here’s the three main types of chewing gums listed from best to worst for your teeth:

1 – Xylitol-sweetened chewing gum

2 – Artifically sweetened chewing gum

3 – Sugar-sweeteneed chewing gum

It’s also important to remember that chewing gum helps release saliva which helps to rinse sugar away from your teeth.

Do you have any questions or comments about how chewing gum affects your oral health?  I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Acid Dissolves Teeth

In 1942, the average American drank the equivalent of 60 12-ounce cans of soda per year.  In 2004, that number increased nearly 10-fold to 576 12-ounce cans of soda per year. That averages out to 1.6 12-ounce cans every day for each man, woman, and child in the United States. (Source) Although soda pop is the most well-known substance that contains  teeth-dissolving acid, different types of acids are found in many different foods. However, there’s more to an acidic beverage or food than just its pH.  How much damage the acid you eat and drink does to your teeth depends on four different factors.

Four Factors That Determine If Acids Will Dissolve Your Teeth

1 – How Much Contact the Acid Has With Your Teeth

Acidic Drinks Can Dissolve TeethIf you like to savor your acidic vinaigrette salad dressing or enjoy swishing your soda around in your mouth before swallowing, the acid will do more damage to your teeth because it stays in contact with your teeth a lot longer.

Want to enjoy your soda pop while minimizing damage to your teeth? Read How to Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Happy.

2 – The pH of the Acid

The pH of a substance indicates how acidic it is.  The lower the pH, the more acidic.  The higher the pH, the less acidic.  If you’re wondering about the pH of many popular drinks, read the article Nine Drinks that Can Dissolve Your Teeth.

If you’re wondering the exact pH when teeth start to dissolve, check out the article What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

3 – The Buffering Capacity of the Acid

The buffering capacity of the acid is best explained by the following example:  If you drink some sparkling water, your saliva can quickly neutralize the acid and bring your mouth back up to a pH that won’t dissolve teeth.  However, if you drink oragne juice, it will take much longer for your saliva to neutralize the acid.  Orange juice has a high buffering capacity while sparkling water has a low buffering capacity. The fact that saliva can neutralize acids in your mouth is just one of the many reasons why saliva is important. Ole Fejerskov explains this point in the textbook Dental Caries, “Low pH products such as Coca Cola, and tonic water at pH 2.5 are more aggressive than orange juice at pH 4.  However, the high content of fruit acids in orange juice gives it its ability to keep pH low, allowing it more time for dissolution.” This means that although orange juice isn’t as acidic as soda pop, the high buffering capacity of the fruit acids allows it to keep the pH in your mouth low for a longer period of time which allows it to dissolve more of your teeth.

4 – Calcium, Phosphate, and Fluoride Ion Content

In the textbook mentioned above, it mentioned that orange juice with added calcium and phosphate did much less damage to teeth than regular orange juice.  Calcium, phosphate, and fluoride ions are all friends to our teeth.  The more of these ions that are in our mouth, the stronger our teeth will be.

Conclusion – Don’t Let Acid Dissolve Your Teeth!

Now that you know the factors that affect whether or not an acid will dissolve your teeth, it’s time to put it into practice and keep your teeth strong and healthy. This article gives some good advice on what you can do.  It states:

Patient education on the causes and prevention of dental erosion are essential to prevent progression [of dental erosion]. In addition to reducing or eliminating exposure to acidic soft drinks and juices, modified acid beverages with reduced potential to cause erosion can be recommended to patients. Frequent application of high concentration topical fluoride may be of some benefit in preventing further demineralisation and increase the abrasion resistance of erosion lesions.

Some other things you can do to prevent acid from dissolving your teeth are:

  • Rinsing your mouth out after eating or drinking acid-containing foods
  • Chewing gum after consuming acids
  • Not brushing your teeth immediately after consuming acids – give your saliva some time to remineralize your teeth.

Do you have any questions, comments or concerns about the effects of acid on your teeth?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Xylitol Helps Teeth

The sweetener xylitol has been getting a lot of attention lately due to its ability to fight plaque and its harmful effects on dogs.

If you’re curious about what xylitol actually is, if it has any nutritional value, and how it helps your teeth, then this article is for you!

What is Xylitol?

XylitolXylitol is a natural sugar alcohol.  That means that on a molecular level it looks just like sugar, but it has a few extra atoms attached to it that make it classified as an alcohol — not the kind of alcohol that can make you drunk!  In fact, xylitol isn’t a liquid.  It looks almost like sugar as you can see in the picture above.

Xylitol tastes sweet, just like sugar.  Unlike artificial sweeteners, xylitol has almost no aftertaste.

Xylitol has been touted to be safe for diabetics and those with hyperglycemia.

Does Xylitol Contain Calories?

Unlike most artificial sweeteners, xylitol does contain calories.  Xylitol has about 10 calories in one teaspoon.  As a comparison, sugar contains about 15 calories in a teaspoon.

How Does Xylitol Protect Teeth?

We still need more studies done with xylitol until we can fully understand how xylitol helps our teeth.  There are some pretty good theories out there though.  Here’s a few:

Xylitol protects teeth by inhibiting glycolysis in the bacteria that live in your mouth.  Glycolysis refers to breaking down sugar.  The bacteria in your mouth break down sugar into acid products that harm your teeth.  Since xylitol inhibits the digestion of sugar by the bacteria, it is believed that xylitol protects your teeth.

Another theory of how xylitol works to protect your teeth is that it makes it so that the bacteria in your mouth can’t stick to your teeth as easily.  The bacteria in your mouth produce substances called polysaccharides (you can think of them as hands) that bacteria use to latch on to your teeth.  If the bacteria can’t stick to your teeth it’s a lot harder for them to harm your teeth.

Finally, xylitol can help teeth by sparing them from sugar.  If you sweeten your tea or coffee with xylitol instead of sugar then the plaque in your mouth won’t be able to harm your teeth.

What Products Contain Xylitol?

Trident Chewing Gum that Contains XylitolXylitol can be found in many chewing gums, such as Trident Minty Twist chewing gum pictured to the right.  Lots of chewing gums contain other cheaper sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol which haven’t been shown to help your teeth as much as xylitol.

Xylitol can also be found in certain toothpastes and mouthwash.

Finally, you can find pure xylitol at certain grocery stores or you can find the bag pictured above on Amazon.

Have You Tried Xylitol?

My wife and I went to Costco over the weekend and I made sure we got some chewing gum with xylitol in it.  I think chewing gum is the only exposure I’ve had to xylitol.

Have you tried xylitol as a sugar substitute?  Do you have any questions or comments about xylitol?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section below — Thanks for reading!

Eat Dessert First for Healthy Teeth

Remember how your parents always made you eat your vegetables first before you could eat your dessert?  That may not have been the best thing for your teeth.

Here’s a story to illustrate this point:

Eat Dessert First for Better TeethLet’s say you go out to the Olive Garden for some great Italian food.  After dinner, you order some Black Tie Chocolate Mousse Cake.  As you eat the cake, the crust gets packed down into the grooves on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth and some might even get stuck in between your teeth.  Depending on how much saliva you have — and you might not have very much —  it could take over half an hour to wash away this sugary treat from your mouth!  That means that your teeth could be exposed to harmful substances and their byproducts for over an hour.

Click here to see a graph of what happens to your teeth every time you eat.

Now, suppose you had the cake first, and then ate a salad.  The chewing action of the lettuce leaves would easily be able to wash away the cake, and your mouth would be free from the high concentration of sugar much more quickly.  This is one reason that dental experts recommend eating sugar with meals.  It’s also why I wrote about how it’s better to drink soda pop when you eat a meal.

Do You Need to Eat Dessert First for Healthy Teeth?

CakeNo, you don’t need to eat dessert before your regular meal and there are reasons not to, such as the possibility of spoiling your dinner.  If you don’t want to eat dessert first, you might try drinking some water or anything non-sugary to get that sugar off of your teeth.

I realize that one of the main reasons people choose to have dessert after their dinner is to avoid filling up on empty calories or overeating something that should be eaten in small quantities.  These are both excellent reasons to wait on dessert, or even skip it altogether.  After all, there are health risks associated with being overweight and eating the wrong types of foods as well.  So, if you prefer to eat your dessert after dinner, you could always select a healthier dessert that won’t cause sugar to hang around in your mouth for a long time, such as fresh fruit.  You could also eat something that would aid in mechanically removing the dessert from your teeth, such as cheese or one of these foods.


You don’t necessarily need to eat dessert first.  My point in writing this was to let you know that what matters for your teeth is the order in which you eat your food.  If you eat sugar, it’s a good idea to wash it away with some other food rather than letting it sit on your teeth.

As I was writing this, my wife came up to the computer and said “Another one on food!?”

Looking back through the Food & Drink category, I realize that I probably have written a lot about how food affects your teeth.  What can I say… I like food.  In order to keep this blog more exciting, I’ll be moving on to other dental topics.  If you have any ideas for future articles, feel free to let me know.

Thanks for reading!

Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy

Some dentists might say that in an ideal world, nobody would drink soda pop. In my view, in an ideal world, everyone would drink soda pop — it just wouldn’t hurt your teeth!

Of course, we don’t live in that ideal world and it’s important to know that soda pop does pose a serious threat to your teeth (read this article for more information.)

With that said, if you are going to drink soda pop, here’s four tips you can use to minimize the damage that it does to your teeth.

4 Tips You Can Use to Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Happy

Drink Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy1 – Drink soda pop through a straw.  By drinking the soda pop through a straw, you will minimize the soda pop’s contact with your teeth and quickly whisk it away down your throat.

2 – Drink soda pop during meals.  If you drink the soda pop while you eat a meal, you will be able to wash away the sugar from the soda more quickly.  For example, if you drink some pop and then eat some salad, you will get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth when you swallow the salad.  The goal is to not let the sugar hang out in your mouth for too long.

3 – Don’t sip the soda pop slowly, drink it all at once.  Every time you eat or drink sugar, the bacteria in your mouth produce acid waste that dissolves your teeth.  It takes a good 15 to 30 minutes for your saliva to neutralize the acid and start repairing your teeth.

If you sip on soda pop all day, you might never give your saliva a chance to repair your teeth and could eventually start a cavity.

For more information and to view a graph of this process, read What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

4 – Rinse out with water rather than brushing after you drink soda pop. After you drink soda, you can get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth simply by rinsing out with water.  Some oral health experts have warned against brushing after drinking acidic drinks because the abrasive action of brushing can damage the tooth enamel before the saliva has a chance to repair it.Drinking Cola Little Girl


Like all foods that aren’t the greatest for us, soda pop shouldn’t be consumed excessively.

The reason soda pop is so bad for your teeth is because it is acidic and sugary.  By quickly drinking your soda pop and minimizing the amount of time that the sugar spends with your teeth, you’ll be doing your teeth a big favor.

Do you have any questions, comments, or any other suggestions to add about soda pop and oral health?  Please leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading!

Halloween Candy Healthy Teeth
©Monkey Business Images/

If you’re like most parents, you probably took your kids out trick-or-treating this past weekend. Halloween candy can harm your kids’ teeth, but there are certain ways to minimize the harm.

Halloween Dental HealthAbout 15 years ago, dressed as a gangster, I walked up to a dimly lit house and opened my pillow case and said “Trick or Treat!”  I received neither a trick nor a treat.  I stared in disbelief as the elderly gentleman dropped a toothbrush into my pillowcase.

I felt like that single moment detracted from the true spirit of Halloween.  I couldn’t believe that I’d just wasted 30 seconds of valuable trick-or-treating time on an oral hygiene product.

I promised myself I would never give trick-or-treaters a toothbrush.  I’ve kept my promise so far, so I won’t give you a toothbrush this Halloween, I’ll just give you some good tips on how to keep your children’s teeth healthy this Halloween.

To answer the question in the title of this article: Yes, kids can keep their teeth reasonably healthy this Halloween season.  By incorporating the tips below into their candy-eating lifestyle, hopefully your kids can avoid an extra trip to the dentist for a filling!

The Type of Candy They Eat

One of the worst kinds of candy to eat is sour candy.  Sour candy often contains acids that help dissolve the teeth.

You might think that making your child eat dried fruit, such as raisins isn’t too bad for their teeth.  However, dried fruit is as bad as some candy and can even be worse if it sticks to the teeth and hangs around in the mouth for a long time.

When we took our kids trick-or-treating this weekend, we ended up getting a lot of chips like Doritos and Lay’s potato chips.  While these types of “Halloween candy” can be better for the teeth than pure sugar, sometimes they can stick around in the grooves on your child’s teeth.  If they stick around, they can be turned into sugar and cause cavities just like a sugar-filled candy bar would.

Although there is no sugary candy that really benefits the teeth, some bubble gum can help if it is chewed for a long time, since it helps stimulate saliva production which can help the teeth.

It’s probably best to shy away from sour candy and sticky candy that can hang around in your child’s mouth for a long time.  One thing that can have a big effect on how long the candy sticks around in their mouth is what they do after they eat their Halloween candy.

What They Do After They Eat Their Candy

A great way to get the sugar out of their mouth and keep the bacteria from producing more acid is to have your children rinse their mouth out with water a few times after eating their candy.

Eating cheese after candy not only helps rinse away the sugar, but the calcium and phosphate in the cheese can remove the acid from your child’s mouth and help re-build any enamel that was dissolved.  Eating any of a variety of snacks that are good for teeth can help wash away the sugar.  Even chewing gum will help stimulate saliva production to clean out the mouth.

It’s alright to have your children brush their teeth, as long as they haven’t eaten a bunch of sour candy.  Sour candy, such as Sour Patch Kids, can start dissolving the enamel on your children’s teeth.  If they brush before their saliva has had a chance to repair the enamel, they could permanently brush away a very thin layer of enamel.

How Often They Eat Their Candy

It is best to have your child eat their candy once per day, with a reasonable limit on how much they can eat.

For example, it would be much better for your child to eat two candy bars in one sitting than it would be to have them eat a candy bar one bite at a time over the course of a few hours.  Every time they eat sugar, the pH in their mouth drops, allowing cavities to form.

To better understand what happens each time you eat sugar, take a look at the article What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

Mark Helpin, a Temple University pediatric dentist has said, “Parents can let kids eat a bunch of candy now and a bunch later. But don’t let them have one piece now, then an hour later let them have another piece.”

When They Eat Their Candy

The worst time to have your children eat their Halloween candy is right before bed.  Saliva production generally stops when we sleep.  If you eat sugar right before going to bed, the sugar can stay in your mouth for a long time.  Try to not have your children eat their Halloween candy right before bed.

Some good times to eat Halloween candy would be right after a meal, such as lunch or dinner, when they are still making a lot of saliva to help clean our their mouths.  Another good time might be to have the candy as a snack after school.


Hopefully these tips will help you to keep your child’s mouth healthy this Halloween season.

If you have any questions or comments on this article, feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

Should Dentists Buy Back Halloween Candy?
©Michael C. Gray/

Over the past week, I’ve heard of a few dental offices around the United States that are offering to buy back Halloween candy from kids.  The going rate is $1 per pound.  The dentists then take this candy and ship it overseas to American soldiers that are sacrificing for our country.

Here’s an article that talks more in-depth about this program.

Kids Trick or TreatingOn the surface, it seems like a great idea: free candy for the soldiers, money for the kids, and possibly less cavities for the kids.

On the flip side, it seems like this program kind of sucks the fun out of Halloween.  Isn’t Halloween about indulging yourself in great-tasting candy?

However, as a dental student, I can appreciate the promotion of oral health!

User badbutgood left a comment on this article about a Tennessee dentist who is buying back candy this Halloween:

“Let Kids be Kids! Halloween comes only once a year. Besides, most of the candy goes in the garbage after a few weeks anyway. (That is what I don’t sneak and eat.) I don’t let my child have the gummies or bubble gum because she has braces also. But buying back kids Halloween candy seems a little wrong to me.  Although, it’s a quick way to make some easy cash!”

This comment really made me think about these programs.  Here’s a few thoughts on the subject:

Should Kids Sell Their Candy to a Dentist This Halloween?

1 – No – It’s rip-off for the kids – The Halloween candy costs a LOT more than $1 per pound.  Trust me, now that I’m a grown up and am expected to buy Halloween candy to give out to kids, I can tell you from personal experience that the kids aren’t getting fair market value for their hard-earned candy.  Maybe the most enterprising children could negotiate a better rate with their dentists and fetch a couple of bucks for each pound.

2 – Yes – It’s a bargain for the kids – Who knows…  Maybe by selling a lot of their Halloween candy, they will avoid getting a cavity.  That alone could make the Halloween candy buy-back a bargain for the child.

3 – No – It might cause cavities in the soldiers – Last year they shipped 60 tons of candy overseas.  Maybe they caused 60 tons of cavities in the soldiers.

4 – Yes – It’s a worthy cause.  What soldier wouldn’t be delighted to get some candy from America?  It’s a win-win situation, the kids get some money, and a soldier gets some free candy from the good old USA.

5 – No – They’re selling a gift -The Halloween candy was given to the children for them to enjoy, not to make a profit.

Would You Sell Your Halloween Candy?

I don’t think I would have sold my candy as a kid.  My candy symbolized a hard night of work knocking on doors and lots of walking!

Let us all know what you would do or what you will do this Halloween in the comments section below.

By the way, if you don’t end up selling your candy or your children’s candy, be sure to check back here on Monday.  I’ll have an informative article detailing the best strategies that you can use to eat your Halloween candy and keep your teeth happy.

Have a happy Halloween this weekend and stay safe!

What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink

Did you know that you are the life of the party?  Every time you eat fermentable carbohydrates, millions of bacteria in your mouth shout for joy as they snack on the food that you are eating.

Young Woman Eating PizzaThere’s just one small problem: after they’re done eating, they need to use the restroom.  Since there’s no toilet in your mouth, they just go on your teeth.  All of this acidic waste can start to dissolve your teeth.  Luckily, our saliva protects our teeth by gradually clearing out the acid and laying down new calcium to repair the patches of teeth that got dissolved.

The Stephan Curve: A Graphical View of What Happens In Your Mouth

It can be hard to visualize what exactly happens in your mouth every time you eat or drink.  To make it easier to visualize, the Stephan Curve was invented.

Below, you’ll find a Stephan Curve that shows what would happen in someone’s mouth who eats three meals a day and then a snack between lunch and dinner, and some cookies after dinner.

Stephan Curve

Before I talk about what this Stephen Curve is showing, here are some quick facts that will help you understand the above graph:

  • pH is a measure of how acidic something is.  The more acidic something is, the lower the pH, and the more harmful it is to our teeth.
  • The pH of our spit is usually right around 7.1.  This is slightly basic (as opposed to acidic.)  At this pH our teeth are safe, happy, and healthy.
  • When we eat carbohydrates or sugars, the plaque on our teeth munch on them as well and produce an acidic by-product.  This acid lowers the pH in our mouth.
  • If the pH drops below 5.5, our teeth start dissolving.

What Happened In the Above Stephen Curve

The Stephen Curve above shows a 24 hour period for someone who ate or drank five times:

  • 7 AM – Breakfast
  • 12 PM – Lunch
  • 2 PM – Soda Pop – Luckily it was just root beer.  Had it been a much more acidic soda, the line on the graph could have gone down to a pH below 3.
  • 6 PM – Dinner
  • 9 PM – Oreo cookies – This person started snacking on cookies at 9 PM.  Finally, at 9:30 PM, they stopped eating the cookies and gave their saliva a chance to rinse away all of the sugar and neutralize the acid in their mouth.

In total, this person allowed his teeth to dissolve for two hours during the day.  That still gave him 22 hours where his saliva could repair the damage that was done.  There thousands of things that could have happened to affect this Stephan curve.  What if, instead of eating ten Oreos from 9-9:30 had eaten one Oreo every hour from noon until 10 PM.  He would have created ten different episodes where his teeth were dissolving.  If he kept that up, he’d soon be visiting the dentist to take care of some cavities!

Your Stephan Curve Is Different

Your Stephan curve probably looks similar to the one above, but it is probably slightly different.  The way your Stephan curve looks depends on many factors such as:

1 – How often you eat during the day.  Each time you eat fermentable carbohydrates, your pH can drop into the area where teeth start dissolving.  If you eat enough times during the day, you’ll start to permanently destroy part of your tooth.  This is called a cavity.

2 – Type of foods you eat.  If you snack on foods that are healthy for your teeth, you are much less likely to dissolve your teeth by creating an acidic environment in your mouth.  For example, if you were to eat some cheese, the probably wouldn’t drop much below 7, giving your teeth something to smile about!  If you drink Coca-Cola, which is a very acidic drink, you will immediately drop the pH in your mouth and it will stay down there due to the sugar in Coke.

3 – Consistency of food.  If you drink some fruit punch, your saliva can quickly rinse the sugar away and return the pH of your mouth to normal.  However, if you eat Oreo cookies, it will take longer because the Oreos can get stuck up in the grooves on the chewing surface of your teeth.  As long as the Oreo stays stuck in your teeth, it will be feeding the bacteria and they’ll create acid that will dissolve your teeth.

4 – Your oral hygiene.  If you never brush, the bacteria can create a thick layer of plaque on your teeth.  Since it’s hard for your saliva to neutralize acid through a thick layer of plaque, you’ll spend a lot more time below a pH of 5.5 if you don’t brush your teeth everyday to remove the plaque.

5 – How much saliva you have.  If you don’t have much saliva, the sugar will stick around in your mouth longer because it won’t get rinsed away.  People with dry mouth get more cavities for this one reason.  If you find that your mouth is dry all of the time, here’s some things that may be causing your dry mouth.


Every time you eat something with fermentable carbohydrates, you feed the bacteria in your mouth.  This causes them to produce acid which dissolves your teeth.  Eventually, your body can restore order to your mouth by rinsing away the acid with saliva.  After the acid is rinsed away, your saliva repairs your teeth.  However, if you keep dropping the pH below 5.5, your saliva might not have enough time to repair your teeth and you could get a cavity.  The Stephan Curve is simply a graph that illustrates the pH in your mouth.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments.  Also, if you know anything about the history of the Stephan Curve or who Stephan is, let me know.  I have tried to learn about the history of the Stephan curve, but I remain clueless.  Thanks for reading!

Teeth Getting Hurt This Cold and Flu Season

Three weeks ago I got a cold. I was just getting over it when we went up to Maine, and right when we got back I got sick again.  I’m finally getting better, but my oral hygiene has been less than stellar over the past few weeks!

Fever Can Affect Oral HealthNow that the days are getting colder and shorter here in the northern hemisphere, it’s a good time to talk about how the common cold can affect your oral health.

I’ve actually come up with a variety of ways that the cold and flu can mess up your oral health.  Here they are.

6 Ways the Common Cold & Flu Can Hurt Your Teeth

1 – We tend to drink acidic beverages when we’re sick. Water doesn’t sound very good when you’re sick.  Many people drink lots of orange juice and soda pop (such as ginger ale) when they’re sick.

When I was little, my mom would always make me nice hot cups of what we called honey lemon water.  It’s a slight variation on this recipe of  honey lemon tea.  I still drink it when I’m sick!

You can lessen the effect of acidic drinks on your teeth by drinking them quickly and then either drinking or rinsing your mouth out with water when you’re done.

Read more about which drinks are acidic and can dissolve your teeth here.

2 – When you’re sick, you really don’t feel like brushing or flossing. When you’re sick, the first thing on your mind is getting better, not brushing and flossing.  However, by taking a couple of minutes each day to take care of your teeth, you can prevent the build-up of tartar, which is a type of hard mineralized plaque that forms on your teeth if you don’t remove plaque daily.

3 – Inflammation of the sinuses can make your teeth and gums hurt.  If you’ve got a cold and you’re stuffed up, your sinuses might not feel very good!  The maxillary sinus is located right above your upper back teeth and can make them hurt.

There have also been reports of people’s gums hurting when they’re sick.  This probably occurs because many people breathe through their mouths when they’re sick because they have a stuffy nose.  This dries out the gums and irritates them.  Another possible explanation is that your immune system is so busy fighting your cold that it’s harder for it to fight the bacteria in your mouth, thus causing your gums to get irritated.

4 – When you’re sick, your mouth gets dry.  As I mentioned above, your mouth gets dry because you breathe through it more than usual when your nose is stuffy.  Coughing can also dry out the mouth.  A dry mouth allows sugar to hang around in your mouth and contributes to tooth decay.

Try to stay hydrated when you are sick as much as possible!  When possible, reach for plain water instead of juices or soda pop.

To see why a dry mouth is bad for your teeth, read about how wonderful spit is!

Cough Syrup Can Damage Your Teeth5 – Cold medicine isn’t very friendly to your teeth.  Cough syrups such as Dayquil syrup can stick to your teeth and cause cavities.  Here’s an article that talks about how you can reduce the damage that cough syrup does to your teeth.

Cherry Alka Seltzer Cold MedicineMany cold medicines, such as Alka-Seltzer, are acidic.  Acidic drinks can dissolve the calcium that makes up the enamel of your teeth.

Cough drops are another culprit, but they don’t have to be.  Just eat sugar free cough drops and you’ll be fine.  Both Hall’s and Ricola make great tasting sugar-free cough drops that are much better for your teeth than regular cough drops, which contain a significant amount of sugar.

Rather than taking cough syrup, try substituting something in pill form.  For example, DayQuil is available in a gelcap form that doesn’t contain all of the sugar that the syrup does.  If you must have Alka-Seltzer, you might want to rinse out your mouth or drink water afterward to get the acid off of your teeth.

6 – Vomit is acidic and dissolves your teeth.  Hopefully you don’t have to toss your cookies this cold and flu season.  The stomach is the most acidic place in your body and when it’s contents come back up, they will dissolve your teeth.

After vomiting, the best thing to do for your teeth is to rinse out with water.  You might be tempted to brush your teeth with toothpaste to get the acidic taste out of your mouth, but brushing can damage the enamel because it’s already been weakened by the exposure to your stomach acid.


Having a cold can hurt your teeth.  Remember to continue your regular oral hygiene routine even when you don’t feel well.

Try to avoid cold and flu medicine that are syrups or contain lots of sugar.  Pills and sugar-free cough drops are excellent alternatives.

If you do happen to throw up, remember to rinse your mouth afterward with water to wash away the acid.

If you have any other suggestions or any questions, feel free to add them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Chewing Ice Cubes Hurts Teeth

Have you ever eaten all of your dinner, drank all of your water, and then flirted with the last remaining edible item on the table – the ice in the bottom of your glass?  If so, you’re not alone.  Many people chew on ice cubes for a variety of different reasons.

You may think this habit is relatively harmless since ice is made of water.  After all, it’s not like you are sucking on a piece of sugary candy, right?  Well, the impact of ice-chewing on your teeth is less than desirable.  Here’s why:

4 Reasons Why Chewing Ice Cubes Hurts Your Teeth

Chewing Ice Cubes Can Crack Your Teeth!

1 – Chewing ice puts an enormous amount of pressure on your teeth. While the dentin in your teeth is relatively flexible, the enamel is very hard and doesn’t flex much.  Chewing ice can wear down the enamel and even chip or fracture pieces of the enamel off of your teeth.

Not sure what enamel and dentin are?  Read this article about the anatomy of a tooth.

2 – Chewing ice causes a repetitive hot/cold cycle in your mouth. This can cause microcracks in your enamel over time.  Also, tooth enamel expands at a different rate than fillings.  If you have a white filling, it will expand and contract much faster than the tooth when exposed to hot and cold temperatures.  This could lead to a breakdown of the seal at the tooth/filling interface and may shorten the life of your filling.

3 – If you have braces, the ice could damage them.  It might break off a bracket or move a wire, making it ineffective at doing its job of bringing your teeth into proper alignment.

4 – It can damage your gums. Ice chunks are hard and can be pretty sharp.  Although I don’t know of any studies to back this up, it would seem that if you are constantly chewing ice and pressing down on the gums, you could cause injury to your gums and perhaps even cause gum recession.  For example, tongue rings press on the surface of your teeth closest to your tongue and have been shown to cause gum recession in these areas.

Why Do You Want to Chew Ice Cubes?

Try to figure out what is causing you to chew ice cubes in the first place.  It could be a sign of stress or a more serious medical condition, such as iron-deficiency anemia.  Perhaps a multi-vitamin with iron is all you need to help you stop your habit.

More than likely, though, you are just chewing on ice because you are bored and still sitting at the table after you have finished your food.  There are also some people who just like chewing ice.  I loved chewing ice cubes when I was a kid, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing terribly wrong with me…!

Healthier Replacement Habits

Once you find out why you’re chewing ice, you can try to do something to treat the cause of your ice chewing habit.  For example, if stress or social anxiety causes you to chew ice, learn some new techniques to handle these feelings differently.

If you just like chewing ice because of the crunchy noise or the satisfying feeling of chewing through something hard, you can try eating something crunchy, like carrots or apples.


Ice Cube

If you can, it is a lot better to simply suck on ice cubes rather than chew them.  Although this still can cause extremely cold temperatures in your mouth which could shorten the life of your fillings, it is much better to suck on ice than it is to chew on it.

Are you an ice chewer?  Have you ever chipped or cracked your tooth by chewing on something?  If you have any experiences to share or questions, please leave them below in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Do Fibrous Foods Clean Teeth?
©Mama Mia/

The internet is filled with what I like to call “Dental Pollution.” There are a lot of half-truths and myths about oral health. One of the reasons that I started Oral Answers was to provide facts and truths about dentistry to those that have unanswered questions about their oral and dental health.

Apples - Can they Clean Your Teeth?To dispel these myths, I have created a tag on this blog called Dental Myths.  Every time I set the record straight on a dental myth, I will apply the Dental Myths tag so you can easily find these myth-busting articles.

A common dental myth is that fibrous foods like apples, celery, carrots, lettuce, peppers, and many other raw foods can clean your teeth.

This belief has caused more than a few people, I’m sure, to rationalize their lack of oral hygiene, saying that they can simply “eat their way to cleaner teeth.”

The truth of the matter is that fibrous foods do not clean teeth.

Fibrous Foods Do Not Clean Teeth

In the book, Essentials of Dental Caries by Kidd it states the following about the effect fibrous foods have on teeth:

Health foods are very fashionable nowadays; it has been suggested that fibrous foods such as apples and carrots ‘clean’ teeth, thus removing plaque and preventing caries.  Although fibrous foods are preferable to a sucrose snack, there is no evidence that they can ‘clean’ the teeth.

Fibrous foods simply can’t do the same hard work that the bristles on your toothbrush do every day.

Fibrous Foods Are Good for You

This doesn’t mean that fibrous foods aren’t good for you.  They are great for your body (especially your digestive system), and good for your teeth.  Think about it — if your choice is between an apple, or an apple-flavored Jolly Rancher,  then definitely pick the apple!


As beneficial as fibrous foods are for you, they cannot actually clean your teeth; the only thing at your house that can do that is your toothbrush and some dental floss!

Are there other facts or claims you have heard about oral health that make you wonder or seem unclear?  Leave them below in the comments and I will clear them up for you.

Thanks for reading!

Foods that are Good for Your Teeth

It seems that dentists and dental hygienists have a bad reputation for naming off a bunch of foods that aren’t very good for your teeth.

Well… to get rid of that reputation, I’ve decided to do the opposite.  Here’s a list of 16 snacks that you’ll enjoy almost as much as your teeth will:

List of Foods that Are Good for Your Teeth

Fruit Can Be Good for Your Teeth1 – Whole Wheat Bread – The rise of processed starchy foods over the past few decades has no doubt caused many cavities.  White bread with added sugar seems to now be a staple in many homes.  Rather than reaching for something with lots of added sugar to get your carbohydrates, try some whole wheat bread – your teeth and your body will thank you.  My wife makes this whole wheat bread recipe – it tastes pretty good, too.

2 – Fresh Vegetables – Celery, Carrots, Radishes, Cucumbers, Broccoli, and the list could go on!   Fibrous foods, like vegetables are able to stimulate the salivary glands to release lots of saliva, which in turn protects the teeth.  Vegetables also don’t have as much sugar as fruits.  An easy way to that we have found to add vegetables to our diet is by mixing some together in a salad.  Our favorite is cucumber tomato salad.

Watermelon Helps Clean Your Teeth As You Eat It!3 – Fresh Fruit – Yes, fruit does have sugar, but it also provides valuable nutrients for the body.  Fresh fruit is a great choice because it is also fibrous, which makes it takes longer to chew, which releases more saliva which helps your teeth.  This makes it a good match for a healthy mouth in spite of the sugars it contains.  Canned fruit is also good, just make sure that it’s not soaking in a sugary syrup.  If it has added sugar, it might be doing more harm than good.

For more info on fruit and oral health, read the article Is Fruit Good or Bad for Your Teeth?

4 – Plain Yogurt with Fruit – Most of the brands of yogurt at the store seem to think that when you add fruit to pure yogurt, you need to add a few teaspoons of sugar to make it taste good.  Try making your own fruit-flavored yogurt by adding fruit to plain yogurt.

5 – Cottage Cheese with Fresh Peaches or Pears – I’ll be honest.  This used to gross me out just thinking about it…  It may not sound too appetizing to you, either.  But, I have to say that after trying it, it’s a pretty good snack.  Try it — you might just like it, but maybe not as much as your teeth will.

Cheese Neutralizes Acids and Provides Valuable Nutrients For Your Teeth6 – Cheese – Cheese is great for your teeth since it contains calcium, and phosphates.  It also neutralizes harmful acid created by the plaque in your mouth.  There are even little snack-sized 100 calorie packs of delicious cheese that you can take with you wherever you go!

7 – Soups – Chicken soups in the winter warm you up and make your teeth happy! A warning –  Be careful with certain soups such as stews and tomato soups that contain lots of sugar.

Popcorn is Great for Your Teeth!8 – Nuts -Nuts are a great source of nutrition that won’t harm your teeth.  Peanuts are a great choice.  Watch out for peanut butter, as it can contain a lot of added sugar.  Just make sure that you don’t crack the shells with your teeth!

9 – Popcorn – Popcorn is a great food for snacking on.  It beats out all of the other snacks such as potato chips and cheese puffs because it’s not made of refined starch.  Just be sure to floss after you eat it or your dental hygienist may find some popcorn remains in your mouth at your next checkup.  It happened to me when I was a teenager.  She asked me if I’d had popcorn recently.  I said, “I think so.”  That turned out to be the right answer.

Cows Can Help Our Teeth
Cows give us milk and cheese. Both help our teeth.

10 – Milk – Cow’s milk has three key substances: calcium, phosphorus, and casein.  All of those are believed to prevent cavities.  Many different studies have even shown that after drinking milk, the bacteria on your teeth don’t really do any harm to your teeth.  Here’s one such study, and another one.

11 – Hard Boiled Eggs – They are extremely portable and even come in a natural hard package.  Mix things up and make it a deviled egg – just don’t add sugar.

12 – Meats such as turkey and chicken.  Better yet, add it to some whole wheat bread and make a sandwich that will delight your incisors.  Some processed lunch meats can contain a lot of added sugar, so be careful when shopping.

Sunflower Seeds Are Great for Your Teeth!13 – Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds.  Make your own when you carve pumpkins this Halloween or buy some at the store.  If you buy seeds pre-packaged, just check out the ingredients first to ensure that they aren’t sugar-laden.

14 – Smoothies made from milk, fresh fruit, and/or yogurt – This is a great treat that does have some sugar in it, but it’s much better to get your sugar from milk and fresh fruit than it is to get it from sticky candy such as caramel, jelly beans, sour patch kids, or toffee.

Trident Gum Contains Xylitol - Good for Your Teeth!15 – Sugar-free chewing gum – Sugar-free chewing gum is a great way to promote salivary flow in your mouth.  Saliva can washes away food, neutralizes acid in the mouth, and can repair damaged teeth.  If you can’t brush after you eat, try chewing a piece of gum.  Some gums, such as this Trident gum contain xylitol, which is a sugar-alcohol that can actually kill the bacteria that ruin your teeth.

16 – Sugar-free candy – Sugar-free candy also promotes salivary flow in the mouth.  Sucking on sugar-free candy is much better than bathing all of your teeth in a hard-candy sugar bath for 15-20 minutes at a time.

What Other Tooth-Friendly Foods Can You Think Of?

I’m sure I missed some.  Are there any snacks that you like to eat that don’t hurt your teeth?  Let us all know about them in the comments section below!

Fruit: Good or Bad for Teeth?

Many people have asked me whether or not fruit is bad for your teeth.  The answer is that it depends.  We all know that the main reason people like fruit compared to vegetables is because of the sugar.  The question is, does the sugar in fruit cause tooth decay?

There are six main ways that we eat fruit:

1 – Fresh fruit
2 – Frozen fruit
3 – Canned fruit
4 – Fruit juice
5 – Dried fruit
6 – Preserved fruit, such as  jellies and jams

Is Fresh Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Fresh Fruit is Great for Your TeethIt might seem counter intuitive to think that a food with lots of sugar is good for your teeth, but fresh fruit is good for your teeth when consumed as part of a balanced diet.  In this review paper talking about diet and cavities, the authors stated the following:

In experimental conditions in which fruit is a major dietary
constituent, fruits may participate in the caries process;
however, as consumed as part of the mixed human diet
there is little evidence to show fruit to be an important
factor in the development of dental caries.

If you eat fruit and only fruit all day long, then it may not be too good for you.  This study showed that when fruit is eaten very often (as in 17 times per day!), that fruit can start to cause cavities.

Just use common sense by eating fruit as part of a balanced diet and you’ll be fine.  Fresh fruit also provides valuable vitamins that can even improve your oral health.

Is Frozen Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

While researching through academic literature for this article, I couldn’t find anything that differentiated frozen fruit from fresh fruit.  However, since many people do eat frozen fruit, I thought I would mention it.

Until different studies and experiments are conducted, I would say that frozen fruit is about as good for your teeth as fresh fruit.  Frozen fruit is certainly much better than any of the other forms of fruit mentioned below.

Just make sure that the food manufacturers have not added additional sugar to the frozen fruit to make it more pleasing to your taste buds (but more detrimental to your teeth).  For example, many companies sell frozen fruit bars that have fruit in them with extra sugar.

Is Canned Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Canned fruit can be good for you!  You do need to be careful though.  Most canned fruits on the market today are bathed in a sugar-rich heavy syrup.  Due to this added sugar, canned fruit can be very harmful to your teeth.

Before eating canned fruit, look on the ingredients label to see if it has added sugar.  Most canned fruits will also say “In heavy syrup” or “In light syrup” on the label.  This is a giveaway that these products contain excess sugar.  While rare, you may be able to find canned fruit with “no added sugar”.

Interestingly, every patient that comes into our dental school for comprehensive treatment has to take a diet assessment analysis.  One of the questions asks whether or not they eat canned fruit frequently.  This helps us determine how “at risk” they are for getting cavities.

Is Fruit Juice Good for Your Teeth?

Juice is Not Good For Your Teeth

If you take away the most nutritious parts of a fruit, what are you left with?  Sugar water and natural flavors – AKA: fruit juice.

When a fruit is juiced, all of the sugar comes out of it and into the solution of juice.  This sugar is no different than much of the sugar that is in candy today.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry even recommends restricting the amount of fruit juice that you give your small children to less than one cup per day.  They have recognized the devastating effects that fruit juice can have on kids’ teeth.  I’ll cover this topic more in a future article, but recognize the importance of limiting fruit juice intake.

Is Dried Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Grapes, Raisins, and Your Teeth
Grapes are alright, but when dried into raisins they can cause cavities.

Dried fruit is a very convenient, portable snack.  It wouldn’t be a very bad alternative to fresh fruit if it weren’t for one thing: Dried fruit is not good for your teeth.  I was able to come up wtih four main reasons why.

1 – The sugar is super-concentrated.  When you dry fruit, almost all of the water is lost, but no sugar is lost.

2 – Dried fruit is very sticky.  I used to eat dried mangoes all of the time and found that they kept getting stuck in my teeth.

3 – When fruit is dried, it releases a lot of the intrinsic sugars from inside of the fruit.  These Ocean Spray Craisins Contain Lots of Added Sugarsugars are then available to feed the bacteria in your mouth, which can hurt your teeth.

4 – Dried fruit often has added sugar.  This is another one of the ways that manufacturers can sneak sugar into our diet.  Popular dried fruit like Craisins Dried Cranberries and many brands of dried mangoes contain added sugar.

Are Jelly and Jam Good for Your Teeth?

Jellies and jams aren’t good for your teeth at all.  The fruit is usually cooked, releasing lots of the intrinsic sugars and removing lots of water.  Then, this mixture is thickened and bombarded with sugar.

Jelly and jam might not be so bad, but we usually eat them by putting them on bread.  When a mixture of jam and bread gets stuck in our back teeth, it can feed the bacteria in our mouths for a long time until our saliva finally rinses it away.


Fresh fruit is best for your teeth.  Fresh fruit is also very portable as it usually comes in its own natural wrapper.  Try to limit fruit juice, dried fruit, and jellies and jams.

Remember, it is important to eat a balanced diet.

Do you have any questions or comments on fruit and your dental health?  Leave them below in the comments!

Different Names for Sugar
©Sea Wave/

Did you know that the average American eats nearly 100 pounds of sugar per year?  For teenagers, the number climbs to nearly 150 pounds per year.

Why do we eat so much sugar?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that it is so prevalent in the food we eat.  Sugar is used to enhance the flavor of foods, add texture, and can also be used as a preservative in some foods.

Another reason we eat so much sugar could be that we’re just not aware of the many ways that food manufacturers sneak sugar into our diet.

Many years ago, you used to be able to look at the ingredient list and find out if a product contained sugar.

Spoon of SugarToday, it’s not that easy.  Food manufacturers are cleverly renaming sweeteners.  Because of this, it’s hard to know exactly what is in the food you eat..

To learn more about how sugar can harm your teeth, read the articles What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque and The Five Sugars that Hurt your Teeth.

Here’s 50 alternative names for sugar that food companies use to trick us.

50 Alternative Names for Sugar

Honey is Sugar
Honey is mostly sugar

1 – High Fructose Corn Syrup
2 – Sucrose
3 – Glucose
4 – Fructose
5 – Lactose
6 – Maltose
7 – Dextrose
8 – Honey
9 – Corn Syrup
10 – Invert Sugar
11 – Invert Sugar Syrup
12 – Molasses
13 – Brown Sugar

Sugar Cane Crystals
Sugar Cane Crystals

14 – Evaporated Cane Juice
15 – Sugar Cane Crystals
16 – Treacle
17 – Demerara Sugar
18 – Fruit Juice Crystals
19 – Dehydrated Fruit Juice
20 – Corn Sweetener
21 – Fruit Juice Concentrate (any fruit or even sugary vegetables such as beet juice!)
22 – Malt Syrup
23 – Raw Sugar
24 – Turbinado Sugar
25 – Syrup
Sugar Cubes

Beets Sugar
Beets are a rich source of sugar

26 – Muscovado Sugar
27 – Glucose Syrup
28 – Barbados Sugar
29 – Sorghum Syrup
30 -Refiner’s Syrup
31 – Beet Sugar
32 – Carob Syrup
33 – Table Sugar
34 – Malt
35 – Buttered Syrup
36 – Maple Syrup
37 – Rice Syrup
38 – Agave Nectar or Syrup

Raisin Syrup is Made from Raisins
Raisin syrup is made from raisins

39 – Powdered Sugar
40 – Confectioner’s Sugar
41 – Corn Syrup Solids
42 – D-Mannose
43 – Sorbose
44 – Galactose
45 – Organic Raw Sugar
46 – Golden Sugar
47 – Date Sugar
48 – Castor Sugar
49 – Golden Syrup
50 – Raisin Syrup

Why Are There So Many Different Names for Sugar?

Sugar Cane Field
A Sugar Cane Field

Food manufacturers are always thinking up new, even “healthy” sounding names for sugar.

One of the most clever names, in my opinion, is the sweetener Kashi uses in their GoLean Crunch Cereal: evaporated cane juice.  Since cane juice is pretty much just “sugar water” then evaporated sugar water leaves you with “sugar.”

No matter how organic or natural-sounding they try to make it, sugar is sugar and it can still cause damage to your teeth.

The Best Way to Find Out How Much Sugar Is In Food

Sugar Nutrition Facts LabelFood manufacturers will undoubtedly come up with new names in the future for sugar.  The best way to see how much sugar is in something is by looking at the nutrition facts label on the back or side of the food item.  You can usually find this information under the Carbohydrates section (on U.S. food labels) and it will usually even say the word Sugars, followed by a certain number of grams.  No matter the exact sugar used, the overall number of grams is the key to finding out how much sugar is hiding in your food.


I’m sure I’ve missed some names…can you think of any other names for sugar?

If so, please leave them below in the comments so we’ll all know what to look out for in our food.

And while we’re on the subject, how do you feel about the way sugars are labeled in the foods you eat?

Vipeholm Study Dental Cavities
©Anki Hoglund/

The Vipeholm Study was a study that dental researchers conducted on a group of mentally challenged residents of the Vipeholm Institution.

Institution Representing Vipeholm InstituteDental researchers fed mentally handicapped people lots of sugar for the purpose of studying tooth decay.  Unfortunately, many of these patients ended up losing their teeth to cavities.

Although the study is tragic and wouldn’t be allowed to be done today due to ethics concerns, we learned a great deal about how foods cause cavities from this study.

The participants in the study were all fed the same basic diet.  The participants were divided up into seven groups to compare how subtle changes in the timing and quantity of sugar consumption affected their dental health.

Three Key Groups In the Vipeholm Study

There are three key groups in the Vipeholm study that helped us understand more about how food affects the formation of a cavity on a tooth:

1 – One group ate the original diet with an extra 300 grams of sugar dissolved in solution during their meals.  That’s the equivalent of drinking about five 20 fluid oz. bottles of coke per day during meals!

2 – Another group ate the basic diet with an extra 50 grams of sugar mixed into their bread that they ate during mealtime.

3 – The last group that we’ll talk about ate the basic diet.  However, in between meals, this group also ate snacks of sugary toffee and candy.

Patients Unknowingly Damaged Their Teeth With Sugar in the Vipeholm Study

Which group ended up getting the most cavities and losing the most teeth?  The third group.

When the sugar was consumed in between meals, it gave the bacteria more opportunities throughout the day to form cavities on the teeth.

What We Learned from the Vipeholm Study

The takeaway message from the Vipeholm study was that the frequency of sugar consumption is more important than the amount of sugar consumed.  The study also showed that foods that stick around in the mouth longer have a greater potential to cause cavities.

For example, consider the following two scenarios:

1 – You drink a glass of fruit punch with 40 grams of sugar in 10 seconds.

2 – You chew on a piece of toffee with 5 grams of sugar for two minutes.

Which scenario do you think is more harmful for your teeth?

Chewing the toffee is more harmful for your teeth because it exposes them to sugar for a longer period of time, allowing the bacteria that ruin your teeth more time to wreak havoc.

To learn more about the bacteria that ruin your teeth, read What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque.

Learn More About the Vipeholm Study

If you would like to learn more about the Vipeholm study, including reading about all seven groups and their results, there is a free paper you can read entitled The Vipeholm Dental Caries Study: recollections and reflections 50 years later.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments about the Vipeholm study, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Children's Medicine Sugar Teeth

A quick walk down the aisle at your local pharmacy will reveal an alarming amount of sugar.  Most medicine that we give our children is combined with a thick syrup made up of sugar and corn syrup.  For more information on the different sugars that hurt your teeth, read my article about the five sugars that damage your teeth.

Sugar in Children's MedicineWhen you give your child syrupy medicine, the sugary syrup clings to your child’s teeth.  Because the medicine is so thick, it can stay around in your child’s mouth for a lot longer than sugary drinks such as soda pop that are more easily washed away by saliva.

It’s unlikely that you’re giving your child medicine just for fun — you’re likely giving them something that they need to return to full health or to be more comfortable.  So, the most important concern you have is to get a sick child to take their medicine at all!  But since you need to give your so or daughter medicine in syrup form to get them healthy again, here’s how you can do it without causing harm to their teeth.

How to Give Children Cough Syrup Without Hurting Their Teeth

Here’s a few suggestions that you can try when giving your child medicine in syrup form:

1 – Dilute the syrup with water.  By diluting the syrup you are doing two things: you are making it less sticky, so it’s easier to get rinsed away by your child’s saliva.  You are also decreasing the concentration of the sugar in the medicine, which will provide less sugar to feed the plaque that live on your child’s teeth.  One caution: your child will still need to drink the entire amount of liquid you have diluted the medicine in to get its intended effects, so don’t dilute it too much – sick kids often have decreased appetites and once you have diluted the medicine, it will be difficult to guess how much medicine they have actually ingested.  So don’t overdo it!  Also, don’t dilute their medicine if they are having a hard time keeping other food or liquids down – in this case, just get them to take the medicine as is and try to rinse their mouth out after, as described below.

2 – Try having them drink it through a small straw.  When we drink anything through a straw, it bypasses our teeth and gets whisked to the back of the mouth and swallowed almost immediately.  By avoiding contact with most of the mouth, the syrup doesn’t have much of an opportunity to damage your child’s teeth.  Some medicines will be too thick to do this with, so use your judgment or dilute it slightly first, as mentioned above.

3 – Have your child drink water afterwards, or at least rinse out their mouth after having the medicine.  This suggestion is probably the most important and most easily done.  If your child can drink some water, or rinse out their mouths and spit it out, it will remove most of the sugar that hangs out in their mouth waiting to get turned into acid by the plaque.

4 – Avoid giving the medicine right before bedtime if possible.  If you give your child a syrupy medicine and then send him or her right off to bed, your child will fall asleep with sugar-coated teeth.  When we sleep, our saliva production decreases dramatically.  Without the saliva there to wash away the syrup, it can stay on your child’s teeth all night.  This is the main reason why toddlers get lots of cavities; they drink sugary drinks right before they fall asleep, or even worse,  their parents give them a bottle when putting them to bed.

If you need to give your child a bottle to get them to fall asleep, the best thing to give them is pure water.


Cold medicine may seem like an insignificant source of sugar in the grand scheme of things but every bit of sugar your child ingests adds up.  By following these four suggestions, you can reduce the potential damage caused by these cold medicines.  Of course, the most important thing when your child is sick is to get he or she feeling better; but if your child is able to take their medicine in one of these ways it will prevent the medicines they need to take from harming their teeth.

Do you have any comments or questions about giving medicine to children and its effects on the teeth?  Leave them below in the comments section!

Alkaline Water and Teeth
©Tarasyuk Igor/

Have you heard of alkaline water?  If not, you might soon hear about it from a multi-level-marketer near you. Earlier this week, I talked with an alkaline water marketer for five or ten minutes about it.  He talked about all of the benefits of alkaline water and even called it “nature’s water” or something similar to that.

Alkaline WaterI wasn’t familiar with alkaline water, so I decided to read up on it. As I browsed several websites, I noticed a trend.  Nearly all of the supporters of alkaline water are selling something, and those who oppose it seem to agree that its supporters are only supporting it to make money.

As I read over some of the claims, some of them were outrageous, and others were completely false.  If I didn’t have a strong background in the life sciences, I might have been fooled. One claim in particular caught my eye.  The author of a website claims that alkaline water can improve your oral health.  Here’s a couple of ways that alkaline water might improve your oral health, and my thoughts about them.

Can Alkaline Water Help Re-mineralize Your Teeth?

If you’ve read my article about the nine types of drinks that can dissolve your teeth, you probably know that acids are harmful to your teeth.  Alkaline water is basic (the opposite of an acid), so it might make sense that alkaline water would help your teeth.  After all, if acidic drinks dissolve your teeth, wouldn’t it make sense that alkaline drinks would re-build your teeth?  Actually, no. When acidic drinks dissolve your teeth, they take away the minerals that make up the enamel.  Thankfully, your body has a built-in mechanism to replace these minerals via your saliva.  Alkaline water can’t re-mineralize your teeth by replacing tooth structure.

Can Alkaline Water Neutralize Acids That Break Down Teeth?

Whenever you eat anything containing sugar or starch, it can be eaten by the bacteria in your mouth.  These bacteria then excrete acid right onto your teeth.  This acid can slowly eat away at your teeth.  If you don’t remove the bacteria daily through brushing and flossing, then the acid that they excrete will eventually cause a cavity in your tooth.  For more about how plaque destroys your teeth, read What Every Human Needs To Know About Plaque. In theory, alkaline water could neutralize the acid that the plaque produce and inhibit a cavity from forming.  However, you would have to swish it around in your mouth a lot to ensure that it was able to contact the acid under the sticky layer of plaque.  Most people when drinking alkaline water probably don’t bother to swish it around in their mouths, they simply swallow it down to their acidic stomachs. Although alkaline water could be used to neutralize acid, it is probably more simple to deprive the acid-producing bacteria of their food source by rinsing your mouth out with water to get rid of the sugar or eating some fresh vegetables to clean your teeth. If you really want to neutralize the acid, try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into some warm water and swishing it around in your mouth.  This will produce some “alkaline water” at a fraction of the cost.


Alkaline water can’t re-build your teeth’s enamel or heal a cavity.  It could theoretically neutralize the acid in your mouth after eating something sugary, but it’s probably not terribly effective.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any scientific peer-reviewed articles on this specific subject. Finally, a word to the wise: It’s probably best to get your health information from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something.  If someone claims that their product can solve hundreds of health problems, it’s probably too good to be true.  If you want to see if a claim is backed up by real science, you can try performing a search of scientific papers at PubMed or Google Scholar free of charge. Do you have any questions or comments on alkaline water and oral health?  If so, leave them below in the comments section!

Cookies - Fermentable Carbohydrates

Fermentable carbohydrates.

You may have heard that phrase before and wondered what it means.  In this article, I’ll let you know what fermentable carbohydrates are and how they can hurt your teeth.

What Are Fermentable Carbohydrates?

Fermentable Carbohydrates Cookies and MilkCarbohydrates are sugars and starches.  They are a major source of energy for humans.  When we something with sugar or starch, like white bread, the residues can stick around in our mouth.  These carbohydrates are then broken down by the bacteria that live in our mouth through a process called fermentation.

So, fermentable carbohydrates are simply carbohydrates that can be broken down into acid by the plaque in our mouth.

How Fermentable Carbohydrates Hurt Your Teeth

Fermentable carbohydrates are broken down into acid.  The acid can then dissolve your teeth until it is eventually rinsed away by your saliva.  Luckily, our saliva can repair the damage by laying down new calcium to replace the tooth structure that was lost.

For more on this, read the article Keep Your Teeth Below Freezing.

What Contains Fermentable Carbohydrates?

Fermentable carbohydrates are found in anything that is sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or any one of 50 other names for sugar.  Many of the starches that we eat are broken down into sugar in our mouth.  If you take a bite of bread and chew on it long enough, you’ll notice that it begins to get sweet.  This is because our spit has an enzyme called salivary amylase (ptyalin) that breaks down starch into sugar.

You might be interested in reading about the five sugars that hurt your teeth.


Fermentable carbohydrates are called fermentable because the bacteria (plaque) in our mouth can break them down into acids that ruin our teeth.  Brushing and flossing our teeth daily can remove the bacteria from off of our teeth and limit the amount of fermentable carbohydrate that gets turned into tooth-dissolving acid.

If you have any questions or comments about fermentable carbohydrates, feel free to leave them below in the comments section.

Sparkling Water Good for Your Teeth

Lately, my wife and I have been trying to kick our habit of carbonated beverages with sugar and artificial sweeteners.  To fill the void, we’ve started sampling various types of seltzer water, club soda, sparkling water, and carbonated mineral water.  Our favorite, although a bit expensive for our tight dental student budget is Perrier Lemon carbonated mineral water.

Perrier Lemon Sparkling Mineral WaterSince I’ve recently written a lot about how the acids that we put in our mouths can erode the enamel on our teeth, I decided to do some research and find out if sparkling water can erode teeth.  Luckily somebody else has already done the research!

Although sparkling water contains nothing more than carbonated water (perhaps with a few minerals) and natural flavors, I didn’t expect it to be as acidic as soda pop, which also can contain phosphoric acid.  Unfortunately, sparkling water is still very acidic due to the carbonation which can combine with the water to form carbonic acid.

Yes, Sparkling Water Can Harm Your Teeth

Pellegrino Sparkling Water
Sparkling Water Can Damage Your Teeth

A group of researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom wanted to find out if sparkling water can cause enamel erosion.

First, they measured the pH of the sparkling water and found that it has a pH of right around 3.  To compare this with other drinks, you can view this article about the different drinks that erode our teeth.

They took some extracted teeth and placed them in glasses filled with different types of flavored carbonated waters.

How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks

Food companies are able to sneak acids into lots of the foods we eat.  On Wednesday, I wrote about the three dangers of eating acidic, sticky candy such as Sour Patch Kids.

Danger AcidI listed a small number of acidic candy that it would be wise to consume in limited amounts.  The major problem with that list is that it’s not complete.  If I were to list every single acidic food, it just might break the internet.

With that in mind, I decided to write a post about how you can figure out how much acid is found in the various foods you eat.  As you read this, keep in mind that you don’t need to avoid all acidic foods, but it is important to know that when you consume acidic foods in large quantities, you can dissolve the enamel on your teeth.

How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks

There’s no place on the standard Nutrition Facts labeling to specify how acidic a food is.  Luckily, all packaged food sold in the United States is required to list the ingredients that they contain.

Sour Patch Kids Bad for Teeth

One of my favorite things to eat as a kid was Sour Patch Kids. I remember the first time my mom gave me some; it was love at first taste. I would save up my money and buy them in bulk at the store.

Sour Candy -- Bad News for Your TeethThat was part of the blissful innocence of childhood. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have spent my money creating cavities. Maybe I would’ve bought a new toothbrush, or some floss. Okay, maybe not; but candy might not have been so appealing if I’d known what I was doing to my teeth!

You probably know that candy is bad for your teeth, but when it is not only sugary but also sticky and sour, you get one potent candy product. Candy with all three qualities – sticky, sour, and sugary – can literally wreak havoc on your teeth if consumed often enough.

The Three Ways Sour, Sticky Candy Destroys Your Teeth

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth. It feeds the plaque in our mouth. The bacteria then produce acid that dissolves the enamel on our teeth.

Sour candy is twice as harmful because it dissolves the enamel directly on contact. Even if you brush all the time and have a small number of bacteria in your mouth, sour candy will still damage your teeth.

Sugars That Hurt Teeth
©Tobias Arhelger/

Did you know that carbohydrates are really sugars?  Carbohydrates are just long chains of sugars hooked together.  Fortunately, the bacteria in our mouths can’t break down those long chains of carbohydrates.

However, the bacteria in our mouths do love to feed on the monosaccharides (simple sugars) and the disaccharides (sugars that are links of two simple sugars.)

There are five main sugars that can feed the bacteria in our mouths.  When we feed these oral bacteria, it causes them to produce acid.  This acid sits on our teeth and causes cavities.  The acid can also literally dissolve our teeth if we let it.

Where are these sugars found?  You may be surprised to find that these sugars are in many “healthy” foods, as well as many unhealthy ones.

The Five Sugars That Hurt Your Teeth

Sugar Cubes1. Sucrose – Sucrose is probably the best-known sugar since it is the sugar that most people use in their house, common table sugar.  It is a sugar made up of glucose and fructose.  Sucrose is the main sugar found in most candy.  It is also the sweetest sugar.  Sucrose comes from sugar cane, sugar beets, and maple trees.

An interesting fact about sucrose is that the main bacteria in our mouths may be able to easily convert sucrose into the glue that holds plaque onto our teeth and makes it more difficult to remove when brushing and flossing.

2. Fructose – Fructose is the main sugar found in fruit, berries, melons, corn, and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  In general, fructose is not considered as sweet as sucrose.  However, when fructose is concentrated into a substance known as high fructose corn syrup, it does become sweeter than sucrose and is much more harmful to our teeth than regular fructose.

High fructose corn syrup has become almost a universal sweetener since it is cheaper, sweeter, and easier to blend into products because it is a liquid.  Next time you drink some fruit punch or soda pop, look at the ingredients, and you will most likely see high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient right after water.

3. Glucose – Glucose is the main energy source of the body.  The body breaks down all of the other sugars into glucose.  Glucose can also be found in many of the foods we eat.  Glucose is usually found linked with other sugars such as with fructose to form sucrose.  However, glucose can be found itself in wines and other foods and drinks.

While glucose is harmful to your teeth, it is the main sugar found in your body.  A recent study shows that glucose may be healthier than fructose for your overall health.  Maybe in the future, more foods and beverages will start being sweetened with glucose rather than fructose.

Grains are Carbohydrates that Contain Maltose4. Lactose – Lactose is more commonly known as milk sugar.  It is a sugar formed by the two simple sugars galactose and glucose.  It is found in many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.  Although lactose doesn’t even taste sweet, it can still be broken down by the bacteria on your teeth to produce acid.

5. Maltose – Maltose is the sugar that is found in grains such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal.  It can also be found in drinks that are made from grains, like beer.  Beer not only contains sugar, but it is also acidic enough to dissolve our teeth.  It is made up of two glucose molecules hooked together.

Similar to lactose, maltose doesn’t taste sweet, so we may not think that it is harming our teeth.

You Don’t Need to Avoid Eating Sugar Altogether

The calcium dairy products provides in our diet is very valuable.  Just because dairy products contain lactose doesn’t mean that they should be avoided.  Also, breads, grains, and pasta are very important carbohydrate-rich energy sources that shouldn’t be eliminated from our diet just because they contain maltose.

The most important thing to remember is that we need to have moderation and choose our sugars wisely.  The first three sugars, glucose, fructose, and sucrose don’t really provide a nutritional benefit to us.  We should eat them in moderation.

If you find yourself eating a lot of sugar, you can try rinsing out your mouth after eating.  This will do two things: it will help rinse away the sugar that is hanging around in your mouth and it will rinse away any acid that is already harming your teeth.

Lactose and maltose are found in foods that are very good for us.  These sugars don’t need to be avoided; it’s just important to practice good oral hygiene after eating them so that we minimize the harmful effects of these sugars on our teeth.

Do you have any tips on how to reduce sugar intake? Let us know in the comments!

Acidic Drinks Dissolve Teeth
© Rido/

Although teeth are the hardest parts of our bodies, they do have one weakness: they can be easily destroyed by acid.  Acid is the weapon of choice that  plaque use to ruin our teeth and they can be found in many of the drinks that we consume.

LemonadeThe acidity of substances is measured using the pH scale.  The lower the pH a drink has, the more acidic the it is.  Many common beverages have a low pH, which means that they contain a lot of acid.

Our saliva normally has a pH of right around 6.5, which is a healthy pH for the teeth.  When the pH of our mouth gets to 5.5 or below, the enamel on our teeth starts to dissolve.  When you drink something that has a pH lower than 5.5, it starts to eat away at your teeth.  Of course, you can drink these drinks and still have healthy teeth, there are a lot of factors involved.  I’ll get in to a few of them at the end of the list.  Here they are:

Nine Drinks that Can Dissolve Your Teeth

1. Sports Drinks – While sports drinks are great for re-hydration, their acidic nature can cause them to be harmful to your teeth.  The two leading brand names both have a pH of less than 3.

  • Powerade is the most acidic at a pH of 2.75
  • Gatorade has a pH of 2.95

2. Fruit Juice – Fruit juice is good for you, but if you have the option, it’s always best to eat whole fruits as they are better for your teeth, and contain fiber to help your digestive system.  Here are the pH’s of some common juices: