“It doesn’t matter whether it’s refined white sugar, brown sugar or honey, sugar is sugar,” says dentist Alastair Nicoll. “It’s not the amount, but how often you eat it.” Sugar creates an acidic environment in your mouth, which persists for about two hours after it’s consumed. If you eat or drink a little bit of sugar every few hours, your teeth will be continuously bathed in the acid, which directly dissolves tooth enamel.
And watch out for high amounts of sugar found in many processed foods, including ketchup and spaghetti sauces. Be aware that juices that have no added sugar still contain natural sugar.
The fix: If you are eating foods with lots of sugar, it’s better to consume them during meals rather than as snacks because your mouth produces more saliva during meals, which helps neutralize acid production. Twenty minutes after eating is the ideal time to brush your teeth. That’s because, by that time, saliva has remineralized the enamel that has been dissolved by acid.
Raisins, dried fruit
These are high in sugar. Plus, they can get stuck between teeth and stay there for hours, causing decay. The fix: If you are having raisins or dried fruit and can’t brush immediately, floss, or rinse your mouth with water.
Alcohol dries out your mouth and reduces saliva production. It’s also acidic, which dissolves enamel. The fix: Be sure to brush your teeth about 20 minutes after drinking alcohol.
They’re considered so damaging to teeth that the World Health Organization says one of its main challenges is educating people that the increase in the erosion of teeth is due to the increased consumption of soft drinks—which all contain acid, whether they are sugar-free or not. “When we see someone with tremendous decay, we often find that soft drinks are the problem,” says Nicoll. The fix: Don’t drink them; have water or unsweetened tea instead. But if you can’t resist them, don’t brush your teeth right afterward because acid softens the structure of teeth and makes them more susceptible to abrasion, says Nicoll.