What Makes Foods More Likely to Cause Cavities? Your Portland, OR Family & General Dentist Explains
Updated: Mar 2
cariogenic car·i·o·gen·ic | \ ˌker-ē-ə-ˈje-nik , -ˈjē- \
producing or promoting the development of tooth decay1
Did you know that some foods are more likely to cause cavities than other foods? If a certain type of food is highly cariogenic, it has a high potential for producing or promoting tooth decay (aka caries, aka cavities).
What Influences Cariogenicity?
Here are the biggest factors:
How long a food is kept in the mouth
The physical form of the food (liquid, solid, chewy, sticky, etc.)
How well the food produces acid or causes acid production
Protective food ingredients (vitamins and minerals that protect our bodies from diseases): whether the food contains any and how much
The quantity and type of sugar in the food
What does this all mean? In a nutshell: cariogenic foods are typically foods that are kept in the mouth longer, foods that cling to our teeth, have high acid and/or sugar content, and do not have much or any nutritional value.
Examples of the Cariogenic Foods
High Cariogenic Foods are high in refined carbohydrates such as both sugars and starches, which promote the creation of acid and the development of bacterial plaque.
Examples: chips, cookies, crackers, white bread, sweet pastries and desserts, sweetened cereals, sticky sweets and dried fruits, ice cream, sweet/flavored yogurt, beer, fruit juices, soda, and any sugary drinks.
Low Cariogenic Foods are typically unrefined carbohydrates with higher fibre content and no added sugar. They still have the potential to cause caries without good oral hygiene (brushing and flossing daily).
Examples: whole grain and wheat breads and pastas, tortillas, acidic fruits, cooked
starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, yams, corn, carrots, peas), most soups and sandwiches.
Neutral (Cario-static) Foods are not a food source for bacteria, and no harmful, tooth-attacking acids are produced when consumed.
Examples: animal proteins that have not been marinated/seasoned with sugars or
starches (chicken, fish, red meat, pork, etc.), eggs, raw high-fiber vegetables (leafy
greens, celery, cucumber, broccoli), nuts, unsweetened popcorn, and non-acidic artificial sweeteners.
The biggest, most frequently consumed culprits for cariogenic foods in today’s modern diet are perhaps unsurprisingly also the most frequently consumed sources of sugars: sodas and juices.
How Can You Protect Your Teeth and Still Enjoy Cariogenic Foods?
The good news is that there are also foods that are actually “caries inhibitors”: foods that protect against cavities. The best caries inhibiting foods/drink are:
Cheeses (particularly hard cheeses): stimulates saliva flow, provides a buffer between your teeth and acid, and provides calcium.
Sugar-free gum (particularly gum with xylitol): stimulates saliva flow. Xylitol neutralizes the pH balance of the mouth and inhibits the growth of bacteria, which means less enamel-attacking acid is produced.
Water: Helps rinse the mouth of bacteria and food debris, fluoridated water remineralizes teeth and protects against cavities, and it’s 0 calories.
Green Tea: Powerful antioxidants in green tea have bacteria-killing and anti-inflammatory properties, and also lowers the acidity of saliva and dental plaque.
After eating cariogenic foods, follow it up by consuming non-cariogenic foods or drinks. Finish off a meal by drinking unsweetened green tea or rinsing your mouth with plain water, eating a piece of cheese, or chewing a piece of sugar-free gum. As an added bonus, your breath will be fresher, too!
1”Cariogenic.” Merriam-Webster.com, 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cariogenic (19 July 2021).
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