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We all know that sugar is bad for us and we should aim to cut down or cut out those fizzy drinks that do us no good whatsoever. A smoothie might seem the perfect alternative. It’s full of fruit, which is good for you, right? And it doesn’t have added sugar, does it?
Well, it might not be so perfect. Dentists are noticing more and more the deteriorating state of their clients’ teeth and it’s not all down to eating sweets and cakes.
“Every time you sip on a fruit smoothie your teeth are placed under attack for up to an hour,” says Dr. Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. Research conducted by the charity found that more than 30 percent of people think smoothies are good for the teeth when in fact the opposite is true.
Blending or juicing releases the sugars from the fruit and, when taken in drink form, can lead to dental decay. Chewing fresh fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, stimulates the production of saliva, which has a cleansing effect in the mouth and counteracts the bacteria that occur there naturally. Fruit juice also tends to be acidic, which can damage the enamel of the teeth (the hard coating that protects them from decay). The pH of enamel is around 5.5 and anything lower than this (i.e. more acidic) can cause damage.
Acidity of smoothies varies according to what is in them, as discovered by researchers at Dundee Dental School. They tested a number of different smoothies, both shop-bought and home-made, and analysed their effect on enamel erosion and surface depth loss of teeth. The most acidic smoothies, particularly a cranberry/cherry/blueberry mix, caused some erosion, whilst a blend of kiwi, apple and lime had the greatest effect on surface depth. The study found that the addition of yoghurt and other alkaline foods such as flax seeds, green foods and yeast powder can reduce the risk of dental erosion.
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So does that mean you need to give up your daily smoothie?
If chewing your way through the same proportion of fruit and vegetables that goes in to your daily smoothie still doesn’t appeal, there are steps you can take to minimise the damage to your teeth:
- Brushing teeth before drinking can help to protect them from the acid.
- Never brush your teeth straight after having a smoothie. The enamel, which is weakened by the acid, can be damaged further by the abrasive action of the toothbrush.
- Flush your mouth out with fluoride-containing water after drinking (tap water is ideal).
- Drink through a straw to limit contact with your teeth.
- Stick to drinking your smoothie with a meal. Don’t sip it throughout the day, as this will leave your teeth under constant attack.
- Choose your smoothie ingredients wisely. The most acidic fruits are citrus, followed by kiwis, cranberries and cherries. Less acidic fruits include plums, apples, pears and apricots, with more neutral choices being watermelon, figs, mangoes and peaches. Most vegetables are neutral to alkaline.
There’s no doubt that including extra fruit and vegetables in your diet on a daily basis is good for you and, in terms of convenience, smoothies may be the perfect choice. Consumed wisely, they can potentially be an important addition to the diet but what this research shows is that while many of us are aware of what is best for our bodies we may not always give the same consideration to our teeth.