There are many well-known cavity-causing villains for your teeth. From eating too much sugar to not brushing twice a day, you probably already know the basics of what to avoid to maintain a good oral health routine.
But there are a lot of every-day foods, drinks and activities that you may not know are harming your teeth.
You probably didn’t know that your cough syrup can contain a lot of sweeteners, or that a chlorine imbalance in your local pool can put your teeth at risk of decay. And if you think white wine is safer from tooth-staining than red wine, then think again.
Here are 7 surprising things that can be bad for your teeth and solutions for protecting your oral health.
1. Chewable vitamins
Vitamins are good for your health, right? They can be — but chewy vitamins are far from helpful for your oral health.
Chewable vitamins may have the nutrients you need to stay healthy, but since they come in a sticky, sugary form, they’re as harmful for your teeth as chewy candy.
Chewable vitamins stick to your teeth, giving cavity-causing bacteria more time to hang out and dig cavities.
The solution? Ditch the gummies and take your vitamins in pill form. If you’ve got picky kids, shoot for a sugar-free solution for their vitamins.
2. Dried fruit
Dried fruit is another surprising oral-health offender. While certain fresh fruits can support your oral health, dried fruit is chock-full of non-cellulose fiber that traps sticky sugar on your teeth and gums in the same way that chewable vitamins do.
The solution? Stick to fresh, fibrous fruit like apples and pears. These fruits have high water content, which helps dilute the negative effects of sugars and stimulates saliva production. And more saliva means more protection against tooth decay by washing away cavity-causing acids.
3. Cough medicine
When you’re coughing, sneezing and congested, you probably reach for cough syrup or throat lozenges to find some relief from the seasonal crud.
But whether in cough drop or syrup form, cough medicine can be less than healthy for your teeth.
Cough medicine and throat lozenges often contain a lot of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which is bad news for your oral health. And if you take your medicine right before you go to bed, this means the sugar can linger in your mouth all night and slowly erode your teeth.
The solution? Always brush your teeth after you take cough syrup. Choose sugar-free throat lozenges and cough syrups.
4. White wine
If you’ve ever enjoyed a glass of red wine, you may have noticed your teeth looking a little purple afterward. That’s because red wine — like coffee and tea — contains tannins, acids and chromogens, which are a trifecta for staining teeth.
But did you know that white wine can be even more acidic and lead to more staining than red wine?
Because white wine is highly acidic, the acid can break down important minerals in your teeth that help protect the enamel from erosion, like calcium.
And although white wine itself may not stain your teeth, the acids and tannins in the wine can make your tooth enamel more porous. This can in turn make your teeth more susceptible to absorbing color from other staining foods and drinks.
The solution? While brushing your teeth right after drinking a glass of white wine may not sound appetizing, you could try curbing some of the damage by enjoying cheese with your glass of white wine.
The calcium in cheese can help strengthen your tooth enamel against the wine’s acidity, and chewing cheese helps produce saliva which protects against decay-causing bacteria. Plus, who doesn’t love a good wine and cheese pairing?
5. Swimming pools
You may shower off after a dip in the pool to protect your skin and hair from the effects of chlorine. But did you know pool water can be bad for your teeth, too?
Chemical additives in pool water, like antimicrobials and chlorine, give the water a higher pH than your saliva. This acidity can lead to tooth sensitivity and the growth of brown tartar deposits on your teeth.
If you own a swimming pool, be sure to test and monitor the water’s pH levels throughout the summer — the ideal pH levels for your pool water should be between 7.2 and 7.8. But if you’re swimming laps at the public pool, you don’t have control over the chlorine levels.
The solution? Keep your mouth closed as much as you can while swimming, and be sure to use mouthwash once you get out of the water. You can also consider wearing a water-tight mouth guard while swimming to protect your teeth from prolonged exposure to chlorine.
6. Barbecue sauce
A summer staple that’s surprisingly sinister for your teeth can be found at your backyard barbecue.
Barbecue sauce can be full of sugar, which is bad news for your oral health. The same reasons that make barbecue sauce an effective marinade make it hard on your teeth — just like barbecue sauce clings to meat, it clings to the enamel and marinates your teeth with sugar.
The solution? Choose a low-sugar BBQ sauce to cut down on your chances for cavities, and brush right after you indulge.
7. Oral piercings
Tongue, cheek and lip piercings may fit your style, but they can create a lot of oral health issues down the line.
Your mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, and piercings in or near your mouth create a gateway for bacteria to enter your oral tissue, which can lead to sensitivity, swelling or infections.
A tongue or lip piercing could potentially crack or chip a tooth if you accidentally bite down on either, or by repetitively hitting against your tooth enamel.
The solution? Keep your mouth and the piercing site clean by using mouthwash after every meal. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any sign of redness, swelling or infection near the piercing, and be sure to go to the dentist at least once a year for a regular checkup or cleaning.
Prolonged exposure to any of the above surprisingly sinister things for your teeth could lead to tooth pain or even a dental emergency. From tooth sensitivity to a cracked or chipped tooth, here’s how to tell when you may need to visit your dentist for tooth pain.