23 MAY 2024

It has long been said ‘you are what you eat’, and it is certainly true for your mouth. While some foods like cheeses such as cheddar, Red Leicester or a nice Wensleydale have great benefits for your smile, others do not.

As part of National Smile Month, a charity campaign aiming to raise awareness about good oral health, we sat down and talked food with dental expert Dr Nigel Carter. The chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation advises on what foods you might think about avoiding when it comes to the weekly shop.


Crisps can contain a large amount of salt that can dry your mouth. Having a dry mouth can leave you at a higher risk of tooth decay.
Crisps are also carbohydrates which break down into sugar after eating.  

Dr Carter says: “Sugars react with the plaque in our mouths. This reaction produces plaque acids which attack the enamel of the teeth.

“If you do not effectively brush this away with a toothbrush and toothpaste, this can eventually cause cavities to form in your teeth.”

Many children like to have crisps as part of their lunch box, 25% of parents said they pack it as a snack1 and 32% said that snacks were a top priority in a weekly shop1. If you are eating crisps have a glass of water with them to keep hydrated.

Chewy, sticky, and hard sweets

Sweets contain lots of sugar which can increase the likelihood of tooth decay.

Depending on the texture of the sweets it can further damage the teeth.

 Dr Carter adds: “If you are having a hard sweet, your teeth can be damaged if you bite heavily on it and have weak teeth.

“Chewy or sticky sweets can cling to the teeth for longer while eating. The longer the sugar is in contact with your teeth, the more time it will have to inflict damage.”

Previous research by the Oral Health Foundation indicates that stress-induced comfort eating, particularly of sugary snacks, is one of the most common reasons behind unhealthy dietary habits. According to the charity’s research, more than one-in-four (28%) people are more likely to eat sugary foods when feeling stressed.

Granary or wholemeal bread

It’s great to try and eat healthy foods, this includes swapping processed white bread for healthier granary or wholemeal bread instead.

More than two-in-three (70%)  state that bread is their top priority when doing a regular shop (NSM 2022 survey).

While bread can be beneficial for the body, it might pose some unexpected risks for oral health. The charity asks people to be cautious, as even a healthy slice could contain a husk or seed that could cause discomfort when bitten into.

Dr Carter says: “Seeded bread is one of the most common reasons for visits to the dentist with broken teeth and lost fillings and trauma to the gums, from sharp or hard pieces in the bread.

“Some breads can even have higher amounts of sugar in them based on how processed they are.”

Cereal bars

Cereal bars might look healthy briefly but look a little closer at their nutritional information. These quick mid-morning or afternoon snacks are a ‘triple-whammy’ of risk for oral health.

“Not only are they sticky and can get lodged in the grooves of our teeth, but they are also often very sugary, which causes tooth decay,” adds Dr Carter. “Plus, as the case is with bread, cereal bars with nuts and seeds can cause lost fillings or broken teeth due to the hardness when chewing them.” 

If you are eating a cereal bar, be aware of how much sugar they can also contain. Look for healthier alternatives if possible.
A healthy diet can make all the difference for your teeth.

The Oral Health Foundation says that every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour. Because of this, it is important to keep sugary foods or drinks just at mealtimes, limiting the amount of time your mouth is at risk.

The charity advises people not to brush their teeth immediately after eating. This is because tiny bits of weakened enamel could be brushed off, leading to enamel erosion.

To help counteract the acid attack on your teeth, you can chew sugar-free gum for 20 minutes, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash, or drink a glass of water. 

For more information about looking after your oral health, visit www.smilemonth.org.

1. Oral Health Foundation (2020) ‘National Smile Month Public Survey’.