Top Smile Savers and Spoilers

Medically reviewed in September 2021

Somewhere in America, right now, a student's science fair project is demonstrating cola's ability to eat through tooth enamel. It's not pretty. But soda isn't the only food that does a number on your grin. Here are some of your smile's worst enemies—and best friends.

The Enemies List
Soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks: They're not only sugary but also acidic, and that creates a perfect home for the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease—​especially if you tend to sip all day on one or another of these drinks. Acid-neutralizing saliva just can't keep up.

The realistic fix: Nobody's saying you have to go cold turkey, but for all-day swigging, choose water. Reserve the pick-me-ups for once-a-day use. And buy some straws—sipping through them reduces the amount of time your teeth are exposed to a drink.

Sticky stuff: We're not just talking gooey caramels or fruit roll-ups. Bread, crackers, chips, sweet rolls, and other refined carbohydrates are nearly as likely as a Tootsie Roll to cling to teeth—and they hang on for at least 20 minutes. Not good.

The realistic fix: Try to say no to sticky sweets and carbs when you can't brush afterward. Alternatively, slosh some water around in your mouth or chew a stick of sugarless gum that's sweetened with xylitol. The gum helps remove sticky food particles from your teeth, and xylitol curbs cavity causers and increases healthy saliva.

(Get some expert advice on how to choose your dental tools.)

Your Smile's Best Friends
Cheese, please: Eating a bit of cheddar (or whatever) at the end of a meal helps protect teeth. It stimulates the production of cleansing saliva, and the calcium in cheese helps harden teeth.

Crunchy things: Crisp apples, celery, and carrots are nature's little toothbrush alternatives. Not only do they help rid your mouth of food particles, but also their rough, fibrous texture actually scrubs away as you chew, slightly brightening your smile.

Have a cuppa: Drinking tea after eating can help destroy the germs that cause cavities, gum disease, and less-than-fresh breath. That goes for both green and black teas. (Read more about the amazing powers of tea.)

Shiitake mushrooms: These delicate, delicious flavor boosters contain lentinan, a plant substance that's anything but a lightweight: It fights both tooth plaque and the bacteria that live in it.

Here's how caring for your kisser could preserve your smile and your heart.

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