It’s barbecue season again here in St. Louis, and that means getting out to enjoy the best foods of the summer.
Unfortunately, some of these foods are terrible for your teeth. They can do serious damage and increase your risk of tooth decay and damage. We’re not going to ask you to give up these foods (who would do that?)–but there are a few steps you can take to enjoy them more sensibly so that you reduce the risk of damage to your teeth.
The Two Big Threats to Your Teeth
Barbecue foods pose two big dangers to your teeth. The first is sugar. Many foods that we break out for the summer celebrations are high in sugar. Sugar feeds oral bacteria that secrete acid, which attacks and breaks down the enamel of your teeth, leading to cavities. These bacteria can also infect your gums, leading to gum disease.
The second is acid. Many of our favorite summer foods are also highly acidic. Often, that’s what gives them their tangy zip. Acid from foods and beverages erodes tooth enamel, which can make them more vulnerable to cavities as well as more likely to chip and crack.
Managing exposure to these two threats can help you keep your teeth healthy while you enjoy all your favorite foods.
Ribs, Chicken, Brats, and Other Meats
In and of themselves, barbecue meats aren’t a threat to your teeth . But we rarely just throw a piece of meat on the grill. Instead, we tend to marinate, rub, and baste our meats to make sure they get the flavor we crave. And that’s the problem.
Most marinades are acidic to some degree–it helps to tenderize the meat. And many rubs are mostly sugar. And then there are barbecue sauces that tend to be both acidic and sugary.
So the secret to enjoying barbecue meats is to limit the sauces. You’ll still get a little sugar and acid, but if you’re not drowning foods in sauce, it’s better.
Summer is when we get to appreciate the full diversity of salads. Sure, there are garden-fresh vegetable salads, but there are also macaroni salads, potato salads, and even cole slaw.
The vegetables are great for your teeth. They are low in sugar, usually not acidic (tomatoes being the big exception), high in water, rich in nutrients, and fibrous. Even if you might get a piece of lettuce stuck in your teeth, these salads can actually help clean starches and sugars off your teeth.
The problem, again, is sauces. Most salad dressings are acidic and/or sugary. When you’re choosing the dressing yourself, limit the amount you put on your salad. And don’t take too much of salads with dressing already mixed in–like cole slaw.
Also limit starchy salads–like macaroni or potato salad. These not only contain sugar, but the starch is readily turned into sugars and then acid.
Soft drinks are another major source of sugar and acid. Some summer drinks are very acidic, such as soda, lemonade, and sports drinks. Many of these include sugar, too, and because of the way they can drench our teeth, they can be a serious threat to tooth enamel.
There are several keys to limiting damage from these drinks. First, moderation. Don’t drink too much. Second, don’t sip the drink too slowly–this leads to an acidic environment that damages your teeth over time. Finally, intersperse drinks with water to rinse away the acid and give your natural saliva time to restore minerals to your teeth.
And remember: not all summer drinks are bad for your teeth. Iced tea is itself a mild acid. If you drink it without sugar or lemon, it can actually be good for your teeth, although it can stain like coffee can.
We understand that many people like to drink alcohol while they hang around at a barbecue. Your choice of beverage can make a big difference in how much damage your teeth sustain. Wine is probably the worst for your teeth. It can be highly acidic and often has significant sugar content. As a category, mixed drinks can be nearly bad, and some drinks–like a whiskey sour–are even worse than wine for your teeth. Probably the best choice for your teeth is beer. Beer is less acidic than other choices, and lower in sugar, especially if you’re choosing lighter lagers. Since these are a refreshing choice on a sunny summer afternoon, they’re doubly good options.
But no matter your drink, make sure you aren’t getting dehydrated. Dehydration will impair your body’s ability to make saliva, and saliva is your body’s best natural defense against decay and erosion.
Need Help with Oral Health in St. Louis?
If you are unhappy with your oral health or are looking to get a checkup in St. Louis, we can help. Please call (314) 375-5353 today for an appointment with a dentist at our office in downtown or in Clayton, MO.