30 Worst Foods for Your Teeth, According to Dentists

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According to a 2016 study published in Advances in Nutrition, cavities affect an estimated 80% of the world’s population—and almost a quarter of adults in the United States having untreated cavities. A leading cause is poor diet quality and high sugar consumption, the study says. But cavities are just one of many oral health issues that can be caused or exacerbated by the foods you eat, says Joseph Dill, D.D.S., M.B.A., chief dental officer at Delta Dental Plans Association.

“Daily diet plays a direct role in oral health, which is essential to overall health,” Dr. Dill explains. “Brushing your teeth, flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly are all typically associated with maintaining a healthy smile—but there’s more to oral health. The important nutrients from a healthy diet strengthen the bone that supports your teeth and protects against tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer.”

On the flip side, a diet that lacks nutritional value can have the opposite effects, causing staining, enamel erosion, and tooth decay. “That’s why it’s so important to brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day,” Dr. Dill adds.

To ensure you’re staying away from the top offenders and eating as many teeth-friendly foods as possible, below is a list of the worst foods for your teeth, according to dentists. It includes all those foods your mom limited growing up—like candy and soda (sorry!)—and a few others that might surprise you.

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Any food that is soft or chewy and tends to stick to teeth is considered cariogenic, meaning it’s more likely to cause tooth decay or cavities, says Jaclyn Tomsic, M.D., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon based in Ohio. Taffy is pretty much the poster child for cariogenic foods.

Believe it or not, banana is cariogenic. Because of its soft texture, the fruit can easily find its way into the nooks and crannies of your teeth and gums, hanging out to cause decay. “You should try to avoid eating these foods at times when you will be unable to brush your teeth in a timely manner,” says Dr. Tomsic.

Caramel is known for its ooey gooey, sticky goodness, but that’s exactly what’s bad for your teeth. Because it sticks to them while—and long after—you’re chomping down, it’s far more likely to cause cavities than other foods.

You may not think of them this way, but raisins (and many other dried fruits) are just as chewy and sticky as your favorite gummy candy, making them equally responsible for teeth problems. Their texture makes them more difficult to brush away, increasing the likelihood of cavities, Dr. Tomsic says.

Dr. Tomsic says hard foods, like nuts, can chip or damage weak teeth. So, if you’re a fan of snacking on mixed nuts, opt for softer varieties, like walnuts.

According to an October report from Byte that collected input from the company’s network of dentists, soy sauce is one of the top six teeth-staining foods. When you think about the wide variety of dishes it ends up on—and its dark hue—it makes sense.

Like nuts, hard candy can wreak havoc on brittle teeth. Especially if you already have crowns or implants.

It doesn’t just stick to the roof of your mouth; it sticks everywhere, including between and on the sides of your teeth. Plus, most kinds are full of sugar. These qualities make peanut butter a food that’s not teeth-friendly, says Dr. Tomsic.

Crackers, particularly the hard, seedy kind, are liable for the occasional chipped tooth, especially for those with sensitive, weak teeth, Dr. Tomsic says.

Balsamic vinegar is a big culprit for staining, according to Byte’s 2022 report. It’s also very acidic, which research shows can cause erosion of tooth enamel over time.

It should come as no surprise that toffee is on this list, as it bears all the qualities of teeth-damaging foods: It’s hard, yet chewy, and full of sugar, which means it can cause chips, get stuck in your teeth, and ultimately lead to cavities.

Research shows that sugary soft drinks make teeth more cavity-prone, and carbonated beverages in general cause erosive damage to enamel over time. Dark colas are also responsible for staining, per Byte’s report.

If you know, you know. The sinful satisfaction of ice crunching is something only some people understand—but no matter how alluring it is, it’s not worth the potential damage to your teeth. Ice cubes’ hardness can crack or chip a tooth or veneer. And it can also damage tooth enamel, making teeth more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.

Dr. Dill explains that tomatoes, although nutritious, aren’t always great for your smile. That’s because they’re highly acidic and can “damage tooth enamel if eaten in excess, cause pain, sensitivity, discoloration, and make teeth more vulnerable to decay.” However, these foods “can be eaten in moderation,” he adds.

Chips are easy to eat in excess and also easily stow away between your molars. “Starchy foods feed the bacteria on your teeth and gums and can lead to oral health problems,“ says Dr. Dill. “When bacteria are fed, acids form, which can break down your tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Bacteria can also cause gum disease and bone loss, which can eventually lead to tooth loss.”

Cookies, especially the soft and chewy variety, leave behind bits of food that aren’t easily washed away by saliva, and therefore, are more likely to cause decay, says Dr. Dill.

Tough, chewy, and sugary—if you’re a licorice fan, you have to admit, your teeth and jaw don’t always feel great after chowing down. And that feeling is reflective of its spot on the healthy spectrum. The candy is sticky and sugary, which is basically an invitation for bad oral bacteria.

Many fruit juices are both acidic and sugary, which is not a great combo for teeth. The acid of, say, orange juice, can erode protective tooth enamel over time, while the sugars linger and cause decay, Dr. Tomsic says.

Colorful popsicles ranked on Byte’s list of top teeth-staining foods. They’re also not great for those whose teeth are sensitive to cold temperatures.

We hate to break it to you, but your morning pick-me-up is likely causing staining. Along with soda, it ranks as a high staining offender in Byte’s report—and it’s also acidic, making teeth more vulnerable to enamel wear.

According to Byte’s report, when it comes to staining, colorful gummy candy is one of the worst foods you can eat for your teeth. The gummy texture and sour coating only make matters worse, as it clings to teeth and brings a particularly punchy sugar into the mix. “Sour candies also tend to be highly acidic and provide no nutritional value, which should be avoided,” says Dr. Dill.

When consumed in moderation, red wine is thought to have heart health benefits, per Mayo Clinic, but the nightcap doesn’t do much good for your teeth. It’s the third highest staining drink on Byte’s list, which shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’re a wine connoisseur. That nighttime post-drinking brush always takes some extra effort to remove the evidence.

If you’ve ever tried to get a turmeric stain out of pretty much anything, you understand its staying power. That, unfortunately, applies to teeth too, which is why Byte’s report ranks curry (especially turmeric-based ones) on its list of staining foods.

You might assume tea, especially green tea, would avoid this list unscathed, but that’s not the case. Tea as a whole made Byte’s list of teeth stainers, though one study found that adding milk to your cup may prevent the damage.

Like tomatoes, citrus fruits are highly acidic and can be erosive to tooth enamel. It’s fine to occasionally squeeze some into your water, but “avoid sucking on the acidic juice of a lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit,“ warns Dr. Dill.

Pretzels are a starchy food that Dr. Dill says provide a buffet for oral bacteria, especially when their remnants aren’t quickly brushed away. When the bacteria feed on them, it creates an acidic oral environment, making teeth more vulnerable to erosion, cavities, and more.

Here’s another starchy food that you wouldn’t suspect to be “bad“ for your teeth, but Dr. Dill says it’s just as responsible as pretzels and chips for becoming a breeding ground for acidity and an imbalanced oral microbiome.

When you think you’re grabbing a quick, healthy breakfast, you might not realize the impact it has on your teeth. Granola and cereal bars may fit into your diet, but they also fit into the cracks between your teeth, and many contain added sugars—both of which can lead to cavities.

Dr. Dill says soft bread in particular, such as white bread, is more likely than crustier loaves to linger and stick to teeth, which means it’s more likely to cause oral health issues.

Cake is associated with celebration, but Dr. Dill says to at least wash it down with water for your oral health’s sake. “The more frequently your teeth are exposed to sugary or acidic foods, the more likely they will cause damage. So, enjoy that dessert after dinner and make sure to end the meal with a refreshing drink of water to help clean your teeth,” he says.

Kayla Blanton is a freelance writer who reports on all things health and nutrition for Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Prevention.

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