What's wrong with sugary snacks?
Sugary snacks taste so good-but they aren't so good for your teeth
or your body. The candies, cakes, cookies, and other sugary foods that
we love to eat between meals can cause tooth decay. Some sugary foods
have a lot of fat in them too.
We consume many different kinds of sugar every day, including table
sugar (sucrose) and corn sweeteners (fructose). Starchy snacks can
also break down into sugars once they're in your mouth.
Did you know that the average American eats about 147 pounds of sugars
a year? That's a big pile of sugar! No wonder the average 17-year-old
in this country has more than three decayed teeth!
How do sugars attack your teeth?
Invisible germs called bacteria live in your mouth all the time.
Some of these bacteria form a sticky material called plaque on the
surface of the teeth. When you put sugar in your mouth, the bacteria
in the plaque gobble up the sweet stuff and turn it into acids. These
acids are powerful enough to dissolve the hard enamel that covers your
teeth. That's how cavities get started. If you don't eat much sugar,
the bacteria can't produce as much of the acid that eats away enamel.
How can I protect myself from tooth decay?
Before you start munching on a snack, ask yourself what's in the
food you've chosen. Is it loaded with sugar? If it is, another choice
would be better for your teeth. Keep in mind that certain kinds of
sweets can do more damage than others. Gooey or chewy sweets spend
more time sticking to the surface of your teeth. Because sticky snacks
stay in your mouth longer than foods that you quickly chew and
swallow, they give your teeth a longer sugar bath.
You should also think about when and how often you eat snacks. Do you
nibble on sugary snacks many times throughout the day, or do you
usually just have dessert after dinner? Damaging acids form in your
mouth every time you eat a sugary snack. The acids continue to affect
your teeth for at least 20 minutes before they are neutralized and
can't do any more harm. So, the more times you eat sugary snacks
during the day, the more often you feed bacteria the fuel they need to
cause tooth decay.
If you eat sweets, it's best to eat them as dessert after a main meal
instead of several times a day between meals. Whenever you eat sweets
-- in any meal or snack -- brush your teeth well with a fluoride
When you're deciding about snacks, think about:
- the number of times a day you eat sugary snacks
- how long the sugary food stays in your mouth
- the texture of the sugary food (chewy? sticky?)
When you snack, choose something without a lot of sugar or fat.
There are lots of tasty, filling snacks that are less harmful to your
teeth than foods loaded with sugars and low in nutritional value.
Low-fat choices like raw vegetables, fresh fruits, or whole-grain
crackers or bread are smart choices. Eating the right foods can help
protect you from tooth decay and other diseases.
Healthy Snack List
Remember to choose sugary foods less often, avoid sweets between
meals, eat a variety of low or non-fat foods from the basic groups,
and brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after snacks and meals.
Pick a variety of foods from these groups:
- Fresh fruits and raw vegetables
- unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices
- canned fruits in natural juices
- plain bagels
- unsweetened cereals
- unbuttered popcorn
- tortilla chips (baked, not fried)
- pretzels (low-salt)
- plain crackers
- Milk and dairy products
- low or non-fat milk
- low or non-fat yogurt
- low or non-fat cheeses
- low or non-fat cottage cheese
- Meat, nuts, and seeds
- sliced meats
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
The foods listed above have not all been tested for their
decay-causing potential. However, knowledge to date indicates that
they are less likely to promote tooth decay than are some of the
heavily sugared foods children often eat between meals.
Candy bars aren't the only culprits. Foods such as pizza, breads, and
hamburger buns may also contain sugars. Check the label. The new food
labels identify sugars and fats on the Nutrition Facts panel on the
package. Keep in mind that brown sugar, honey, molasses, and syrups
also react with bacteria to produce acids, just as refined table sugar
does. These foods also are potentially damaging to teeth.
Your meals and snacks should include a variety of foods from the basic
food groups, including fruits and vegetables; grains, including breads
and cereals; milk and dairy products; and meat, nuts, and seeds. Some
snack foods have greater nutritional value than others. However, be
aware that even some fresh fruits, if eaten in excess, may promote
tooth decay. You should brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste
after snacks and meals.
*Note: These general recommendations may need to be
adapted for people on special diets because of diseases or conditions
that interfere with normal nutrition.
Information for this
article provided by:
NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
NIH Publication No. 01-1680
Last Reviewed February 2000