According to the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, the ‘cake culture’ in the workplace is fuelling the obesity epidemic and contributing to poor dental health. This week, dental leader, Professor Nigel Hunt, is calling for employers to stop offering such snacks in meetings.
Aside from avoiding the piles of biscuits or sweets at the weekly team meeting, or the latest celebration cake, we can also improve our eating throughout the day to protect our teeth in other ways. From breakfast at our desk to the mid-afternoon slump, the temptation to take shortcuts and grab the nearest pick me up is ever looming. With so many products claiming to be ‘healthy’ it can also be a real struggle to know what to go for, but be wary – hidden ingredients may be wreaking havoc on your teeth. Here our Clinical Director, Dr Sameer Patel, reveals the biggest offenders and offers advice on how to safeguard your oral health throughout the working day:
Dental Danger – Some breakfast cereals can contain as much as three teaspoons of sugar per serving – this is around two and a half chocolate biscuits. Inconsistent labelling means that even the ‘healthier’ brands can also be culprits and choices such as muesli can be surprisingly high in sugars.
Solution – Opt for low sugar options such as wheat biscuits or unsweetened porridge oats and if you need something to sweeten the taste go for honey or crunchy fruit. Eating your cereal with dairy products can also counteract the damage caused by sugar and have added benefits for your oral health. The calcium, phosphates and vitamin D in milk provides important minerals which can help improve the health of your teeth by strengthening and demineralising their structure. Probiotic yoghurt can also help decrease bad bacteria in the mouth which in turn limits tooth decay and helps to promote a healthy mouth environment.
Dental Danger – Low calorie snacks such as dried fruit and popcorn are growing increasingly popular, but neither are good for your oral health. Despite the sugars in fruit being natural, when they make their way into your mouth, there is no difference between the sugars from fruit and the sugars from chocolate or sweets. Sugars found in raisins and dried apricots are highly concentrated by the drying and their chewy texture means they linger in the mouth, causing prolonged damage to teeth. Similarly, popcorn creates lactic acid in your mouth, an offender when it comes to eroding tooth enamel, and the un-popped kernels are notorious for cracking teeth and damaging fillings.
Solution – Firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) are a sensible alternative as these foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. Regular flossing as part of your daily routine is also an integral way to remove trapped food and prevent a build-up of plaque, whilst keeping mouthwash and chewing gum to hand can help fight dental decay.
Dental Danger – Coffee and tea are notorious for staining in between teeth and if drunk regularly, the staining, tannin compounds can build up and cause teeth to turn yellow. Regular consumption can also lead to bad breath, which is down to mouth dehydration. Caffeine is a diuretic and therefore dries out the mouth, counteracting the internal rinsing that normally occurs and causing bacteria to multiply.
Solution – The best way to avoid this is to rinse the mouth with water after consumption, to wash away the tannins and rehydrate the mouth. Water also contains the mineral fluoride which makes teeth more resilient to acid erosion and decay. Alternatively, you could swap your tea or coffee for caffeine-free herbal tea or green tea – which contains polyphenols, that research has found can slow the growth of bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease and has the potential to clean plaque from the teeth.”
Dental Danger – A lot of supermarket sandwiches have added sugar to enhance flavour, and refined carbohydrates such as white bread can contribute to dental decay, because they contain simple sugars that dissolve quickly. When consumed, a surge of acid takes place inside the mouth and over long periods this acid can erode tooth enamel. These foods also take on a gummy consistency when chewed that can allow small particles to get trapped between teeth and make them extremely tough to budge.
Solution – Wholewheat bread is a healthier choice for your teeth and some studies have shown that people who consume high amounts of whole grain have a lower instance of gum disease. Whole grains are also rich in vitamins and minerals which serve to strengthen our teeth and keep our oral health in check. Adding a cheese or chicken filling is recommended as these calcium and phosphorus rich foods are thought to protect and strengthen teeth.
Dental Danger – For those who enjoy making breakfast smoothies and juices – beware! Although fruit is considered to contain healthy acids, this is only the case when they are consumed as a whole, rather than as a concentrated juice. When fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released from the structure of the fruit and if drunk frequently can lead to decay. Juices also tend to have a high acid content which can severely damage the enamel of your teeth in a similar way to fizzy drinks.
Solution – The best drink for your teeth is fluoride water. Calcium-rich dairy and soya milk which can strengthen our teeth and counteract the damage caused by acidic juices, are also an advisable choice. Good saliva flow is important in creating an alkaline environment in the mouth, thereby protecting teeth from exposure to acid – chewing gum regularly can aid this process. However, if you really can’t bear to give up fruit juice, drink it through a straw to limit the damage to your teeth.