Most of us have a natural craving for sweet foods that probably served us well when the main source of sugar was whole fruits that are also high in nutrients. And we often had to earn that sugar by walking miles or climbing high into a tree. But now that sugar is so readily available and easy to obtain, that sweet tooth is bad for us.

Eating a lot of sugar can not only lead to obesity and diabetes, it can lead to serious tooth decay that will jeopardize your oral and overall health. And to make matters worse, many people who put out so-called “healthy” recipes to help don’t know what makes a tooth-healthy diet. Here are some of the pitfalls to watch out for when considering these alternatives.

Foods that can stain and hurt your teeth

Sugar by Another Name

One of the biggest problems with these healthy recipes is that they are based on the mistaken belief that the real problem is high fructose corn syrup. Although it’s true that high fructose corn syrup is a major source of added sugar in our foods and beverages such as soda and should be avoided, it’s not true that just substituting a different sugar automatically makes it healthier. In fact, oral bacteria get more energy from plain sucrose (table sugar) than they will from the same amount of high fructose corn syrup. And other sugars are remarkably similar to high fructose corn syrup. For example, honey is about 46% fructose, compared to high fructose corn syrup, which commonly contains 42% or 55% fructose. And processed agave nectar can be as high as 85% fructose.

So if you’re concerned about your health, these sugars are no better–and may be much worse–than table sugar or even high fructose corn syrup.

Damaging Acids

In addition to being high in sugar, many of these recipes and alternatives are actually really high in acid. Our teeth are very strong, but they’re vulnerable to attack by acids–that’s how cavities form, and it can also lead to erosion of your teeth.

There’s no denying that a blackberry cabernet sorbet sounds delicious (and it looks gorgeous!), but there’s also no denying that it’s acidic. The acidity of the combination is probably about 30 times more acidic than is required to dissolve tooth enamel. But some even simpler alternatives are more damaging. Some recommend hibiscus tea to stave off sugar cravings, but this tea is highly acidic, about 1000 times more acidic than is required to dissolve tooth enamel.

Probably the biggest danger in many of these low-sugar sweet tooth recipes is that they’re often packed with acid. Sugar leads to cavities because it stimulates oral bacteria to produce acid, but your teeth can also be damaged by acidic foods and drinks, and that can make some low sugar and sugar-free snacks even more damaging to your teeth.

Before you make something your go-to alternative to sugar, you have to make sure that you’re not damaging your teeth by going directly to acid.

Sticky Foods

What could possibly make a sugary, acidic dessert even worse for your teeth? Make it sticky, too. Then it will stick to your teeth, increasing the amount of time bacteria can feed and the length of time that acid stays on your teeth.

That’s why you have to think twice about dry fruit (prunes are sugary, acidic, and sticky), and definitely look askance at something like a sticky chocolate fudge cake (yeah, this one sneaks in b/c it’s gluten free and uses honey instead of sugar). This has the serious potential to damage your teeth.

Staining Foods

Tooth discoloration isn’t necessarily a health issue, although it does make your teeth look unhealthy, so it’s definitely a consideration.

Dark-colored foods that are acidic are the most likely to stain your teeth. So, that blackberry cabernet sorbet is probably pretty bad. And the chocolate fudge cake.

But even some things that are relatively healthy for your teeth–like black coffee or unsweetened home brewed tea–can be staining to your teeth.

Healthy Snacking Means Snacking Less

The best way to make your snacking habit healthier is to snack less often. Every time you introduce food into your mouth, you are potentially acidifying your mouth by introducing acid or sugar, and it might take hours for your saliva to restore the balance. If you’re tempted to snack, try drinking some water. This won’t just keep your mouth healthy, it will help you stay hydrated, which can reduce your cravings in the future.

For Help Maintaining the Health and Beauty of Your Smile

At Top Down Dental, we know that holistic dentistry means looking at more than your teeth. Taking into account lifestyle habits like snacking can help us improve your oral health–without doing a single filling!

If you are looking for a San Jose dentist who takes a comprehensive approach to oral health, please call (408) 354-5600 today for an appointment with holistic dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian in Los Gatos.