Snack Smart for Healthy Teeth

What's wrong with sugary snacks, anyway?

Sugary snacks taste so good-but they aren't so good for your teeth or your body. The candies, cakes, cookies, and other sugary foods that kids love to eat between meals can cause tooth decay. Some sugary foods have a lot of fat in them too.

Kids who consume sugary snacks eat many different kinds of sugar every day, including table sugar (sucrose) and corn sweeteners (fructose). Starchy snacks can also break down into sugars once they're in your mouth.

Did you know that the average American eats about 147 pounds of sugars a year? That's a big pile of sugar! No wonder the average 17-year-old in this country has more than three decayed teeth!

How do sugars attack your teeth?

Invisible germs called bacteria live in your mouth all the time. Some of these bacteria form a sticky material called plaque on the surface of the teeth. When you put sugar in your mouth, the bacteria in the plaque gobble up the sweet stuff and turn it into acids. These acids are powerful enough to dissolve the hard enamel that covers your teeth. That's how cavities get started. If you don't eat much sugar, the bacteria can't produce as much of the acid that eats away enamel.

How can I "snack smart" to protect myself from tooth decay?

Before you start munching on a snack, ask yourself what's in the food you've chosen. Is it loaded with sugar? If it is, think again. Another choicewould be better for your teeth. And keep in mind that certain kinds of sweets can do more damage than others. Gooey or chewy sweets spend more time sticking to the surface of your teeth. Because sticky snacks stay in your mouth longer than foods that you quickly chew and swallow, they give your teeth a longer sugar bath.

You should also think about when and how often you eat snacks. Do you nibble on sugary snacks many times throughout the day, or do you usually just havedessert after dinner? Damaging acids form in your mouth every time you eat a sugary snack. The acids continue to affect your teeth for at least 20 minutes before they are neutralized and can't do any more harm. So, the more times you eat sugary snacks during the day, the more often you feed bacteria the fuel they need to cause tooth decay.

If you eat sweets, it's best to eat them as dessert after a main meal instead of several times a day between meals. Whenever you eat sweets -- in anymeal or snack -- brush your teeth well with a fluoride toothpaste afterward.

When you're deciding about snacks, think about:

  • the number of times a day you eat sugary snacks
  • how long the sugary food stays in your mouth
  • the texture of the sugary food (chewy? sticky?)

If you snack after school, before bedtime, or other times during the day, choose something without a lot of sugar or fat. There are lots of tasty, filling snacks that are less harmful to your teeth -- and the rest of your body -- than foods loaded with sugars and low in nutritional value. Snack smart!

Low-fat choices like raw vegetables, fresh fruits, or whole-grain crackers or bread are smart choices. Eating the right foods can help protect you from tooth decay and other diseases. Next time you reach for a snack, pick a food from the list inside or make up your own menu of non-sugary, low-fat snack foods from the basic food groups.

Snack Smart Food List

Pick a variety of foods from these groups:

Fresh fruits and raw vegetables

  • berries
  • oranges
  • grapefruit
  • melons
  • pineapple
  • pears
  • tangerines
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices
  • canned fruits in natural juices


  • bread
  • plain bagels
  • unsweetened cereals
  • unbuttered popcorn
  • tortilla chips (baked, not fried)
  • pretzels (low-salt)
  • pasta
  • plain crackers

Milk and dairy products

  • low or non-fat milk
  • low or non-fat yogurt
  • low or non-fat cheeses
  • low or non-fat cottage cheese

Meat, nuts and seeds

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • sliced meats
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • nuts

Others (these snacks combine foods from the different groups)

  • pizza
  • tacos

Remember to

  • choose sugary foods less often
  • avoid sweets between meals
  • eat a variety of low or non-fat foods from the basic groups
  • brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after snacks and meals
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