While staying away from too many sweets may help prevent cavities, recent research indicates that what, when and how a person eats is the real root of maintaining a healthy set of choppers.
Since cavities occur when bacteria from foods containing refined or natural sugars produce an acid that eats away minerals in teeth, experts say that people can protect their teeth by limiting the amount of time each day that bacteria ferments. That means limiting snacks and combining sweets with foods that inhibit harmful bacteria.
Most Americans eat five or six times a day, according to studies. Eating more often, nibbling, and sipping drinks means that just about the time a person's body is able to neutralize the acid produced from the last batch of food, more acid is being formed.
Sweets eaten alone between meals have a different and more damaging effect than when they are eaten with a meal, experts say.
Researchers recommend drinking water between meals, and saving sweets or sodas for drinking with foods that can buffer bacteria acids.
Protein from dairy products, such as meat and beans, decreases the total amount of acid produced from a meal, blocking much of the bacteria that can damage teeth. Fat and water also limit harmful bacteria.
Tooth enamel also affects the development of cavities. Tooth enamel can erode from excessive exposure to large amounts of citrus fruit or juices and sodas. Fluoride, toothpaste and fortified mouthwashes help strengthen enamel and limit cavities.
Some experts recommend chewing sugarless gum after meals or snacks. Gum contains a type of carbohydrate that bacteria cannot ferment into acid. Gum also increases saliva flow, which acts as a buffer against acid levels.