Does Snacking Really Cause Tooth Decay? 5 Facts You Need To Know

You can prevent tooth decay

Understanding Snacking’s Role in Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a major concern. It can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly—and it eventually leads to tooth loss, gum disease, and other serious problems. 

What you eat is important, but when you eat also affects your oral health. How often you snack and what you’re snacking on could be putting you at increased risk of tooth decay.

1. Your diet plays a major role in tooth decay.

Bacteria in your mouth are responsible for tooth decay. These bacteria are present in every mouth, but their numbers vary depending on diet, oral hygiene, and other factors. The bacteria eat sugars and secrete acid that wears away at your enamel, leading to sensitivity and tooth decay.

As the bacteria grow, they form plaque deposits. Left alone, these sticky deposits continue to grow and spread. Eventually, the plaque buildup hardens into a substance called tartar. Tartar continues to host bacteria and is only removable through professional dental cleanings at your dentist’s office.

The bacteria rely on the food you eat to access sugar. What types of food you eat, how often you eat, and whether pieces are left behind play important roles in how quickly bacteria can grow and spread throughout your mouth.

2. Frequent snacking increases your risk of tooth decay.

Whenever you eat, bacteria have a chance to eat, multiply, and secrete acid. This process is unavoidable, but it is manageable when you eat only at regular mealtimes. Even having a few snacks throughout the day won’t cause serious issues.

The problem arises when you continuously eat over a longer period. Spending hours slowly working away at a snack provides a steady flow of food for bacteria. This means that they can secrete acid continuously and keep your oral environment acidic.

Continuous acidity like this weakens your enamel much more than infrequent bursts of bacterial activity. You could quickly find yourself developing cavities, toothaches, and other symptoms of tooth decay if you snack this way.

3. Some snacks are better than others.

Is snacking bad for your teeth? The answer depends on what you’re eating. There are plenty of healthy options, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Some snacks even help improve your oral health. Yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products provide calcium and other vitamins and minerals vital to tooth health. Cheese, in particular, helps balance your mouth’s pH to reduce acidity.

Excessively sugary snacks provide quick, easy food for bacteria. This is compounded when the foods are sticky, like many candies, because bits cling to your teeth and provide a longer-lasting source of sugar. The same is true for crunchy foods that can get stuck between your teeth.

4. You can take steps after eating to prevent tooth decay.

When you snack, you can take steps to prevent an increased risk of tooth decay. Along with choosing the right foods and not snacking continuously, you can follow a few basic oral hygiene practices to minimize how much sugar bacteria have to feed on.

You should drink plenty of water throughout the day, but take special care to drink immediately after snacking. Water helps wash away tiny bits of food stuck on and between your teeth. You can also chew xylitol gum after eating. Xylitol helps inhibit bacterial growth and is an ingredient in many different gum brands.

You might think that brushing immediately after eating will help, but some studies suggest brushing before eating is actually better in some cases. Brushing beforehand removes as much bacteria as possible, preventing them from secreting acid in the first place. Your mouth is most acidic right after eating, which softens the enamel. This can make brushing immediately after eating harmful, so wait 30 to 60 minutes if you’re going to brush after a meal to give your saliva time to do its job and rebalance the oral pH.

5. Many factors impact your risk of tooth decay.

Asking if snacking is bad for your teeth is a good first step in learning the causes of tooth decay, but there are many other factors to pay attention to as well. To maintain your oral health, you’ll also need to focus on oral hygiene and preventive dental care.

If you aren’t eating snacks constantly, your brushing and flossing routine is likely a better area to focus on. Are you brushing long enough and with the right technique? Consider whether you’re keeping up with scheduled dental appointments as well, as preventive care is essential to preventing tooth decay.

Keep up with your preventive dental care.

Keeping up with regular checkups and dental cleanings is vital to preventing tooth decay. Your dentist in Friendship Heights can let you know if you’re developing a cavity and provide effective treatment options and advice. Schedule your appointment at MASC Dental Studio for the preventive care you need.