If you’re a patient at Appel Orthodontics, you know there are many ways to protect your braces and other orthodontic appliances—brushing properly, avoiding especially hard or sticky foods, wearing a mouth guard when playing sports, and more. (See the full list on our braces care page).
But orthodontic appliances aside, it’s also important to protect your teeth themselves.
Your teeth are naturally protected by enamel, a mineral coating that is the hardest substance in your body. But even though your enamel is strong stuff, it can be damaged—either by the minerals being dissolved away over time, or by the enamel itself breaking.
Here are 5 ways to keep your tooth enamel strong:
Rinse after acidic foods
The first enemy of your enamel is acid, which can be found in many foods and beverages. Many fruit juices, for example, contain high levels of citric acid. Sodas, even diet sodas, have extremely high levels of acid and are very bad for your teeth.
But it’s not just the amount of acid that’s the problem—it’s how long your teeth are exposed to it. That’s why it’s fine to eat oranges and other acidic citrus fruits, but a terrible idea to suck on slices of lemon!
We hope you are limiting the number of sodas and high-acid beverages you are drinking each week. But if you do have a soda every once in a while, use a straw to limit its exposure to your teeth.
And when you’re done, don’t brush right away—the acid actually softens your enamel for the next hour or so and makes it easier to damage, even with a toothbrush.
Instead, finish up with a glass of water to rinse the acid off of your teeth.
Cut down on sugar
The next enemy of your enamel is sugar. Sugar sticks to the surface of your teeth and then reacts with certain bacteria to create another kind of acid—meaning it can break down your enamel, too.
Obviously, foods such as candies and cookies have a lot of sugar. But here are some things that are surprisingly high in sugar:
- Fruit snacks and dried fruit such as raisins (These also are notorious for sticking to your teeth!)
- Fruit juice (You’re much better off eating fruit in its natural form.)
- Soda and sports drinks
- Many granola bars (Always read the label!)
- Flavored yogurts
- Cough drops
Also, starchy foods such as pasta, potato chips, and bread will eventually break down into sugars if trapped between the teeth.
The solution is to watch your sugar intake, of course (for your general health as well as for your enamel’s sake)—and also to brush and floss carefully after eating high-sugar foods.
(On the flip side, here are some foods that will actually help strengthen your teeth.)
Avoid chewing and biting non-food items
Here’s looking at you, ice cubes!
Your enamel does a good job of helping your teeth break up food. Metal, wood and plastic—not so much. Your enamel is very hard, but it’s also a bit brittle and can be fractured. It’s not designed to chomp down on rock-hard items such as:
- Pencils and pens
- Plastic bags and tags (They’re teeth, not scissors!)
- Ice (Ice is an extremely hard substance.)
- Popcorn kernels (Yes, they are technically food, but they’re too hard to be chomped on.)
Don’t grind your teeth
Another thing your teeth aren’t designed to chomp on is … well, your teeth themselves. If you’re in the habit of grinding your teeth, either when you’re awake and stressed out or when you’re sleeping, you’re probably doing damage to your jaws and your tooth alignment—and you’re at risk of fracturing your tooth enamel.
If you do have trouble with grinding your teeth, especially in your sleep, talk to Dr. Appel. He can provide you with a splint or other tool to help you stop.
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is important, but there’s definitely a wrong way to do it: too hard! If you’re using too much force, you can actually damage your enamel. Here’s a safe rule of thumb: if your teeth or gums hurt after brushing, you’re probably overdoing it.
We hope these tips give you an edge when it comes to keeping your enamel strong! In addition, if you’re planning on getting orthodontic work done soon, learn about another way Dr. Appel can help you protect your enamel during treatment.