Most of us have been told since we were kids that sugary foods are bad for your teeth. But many of us probably don’t know exactly why. It all has to do with what makes bacteria thrive—carbs. That means candy isn’t the only culprit behind tooth decay and other periodontal disease. Here’s what you need to know about the Stephan Curve beyond how to pronounce it (steffen not steven).
The Stephan Curve—Something to spit on
Sorry, sometimes science is gross. The Stephan Curve may sound mathematical and technical, but what the scientists are talking about is your saliva, your spit. Specifically, the curve they refer to is the normal pH balance of the saliva in your mouth. The food we eat and the beverages we drink impact that balance.
Our saliva’s balance should be neutral, not too acidic. Why should you care? That’s because when your mouth is too acidic, your teeth start to decay, and cavities begin to emerge.
Over the last several years, some researchers have warned that dentistry may be over-relying on the Stephan Curve to determine which foods are safest to eat. This is because some foods may not by themselves impact acidity levels adversely, but in combination with other things, do in fact impact acidity levels in a way that’s detrimental to your dental health.
Terms to know
Fermented carbohydrates—These carbs work with bacteria to trigger the decay process that eventually damages teeth. Sugary foods—cookies, cakes, soft drinks and candy—are the main culprit here.
Caries—Another fancy word for the damage that happens to your teeth, causing cavities.
pH balance—This is a measure of how acidic something is. The range is from 0 to 14, meaning a pH of 7 is considered balance in most cases. However, your mouth prefers a 5.5 pH level. Anything above that means your teeth are battling bacteria and decay.
Dental plaque—Also known as gunk, this film on your teeth is filled with bacteria. It’s what you’re trying to remove—in addition to chunks of food—when you brush after a meal.
Foods to limit—the obvious and not-so-obvious
Sweets—From soft drinks to hard candies, you probably know that sweets are the enemy of the teeth. But did you know that other, healthier foods are problematic too? Fruits, including bananas and raisins, trigger a bacteria bonanza.
Alcohol—Drinking beer, wine and cocktails aren’t good for your teeth for a number of reasons. True, distilled alcohol has no carbohydrates. But they can still be acidic, especially when you add things like citrus to them. Meanwhile, alcohol gives you a drier mouth and way too much alcohol makes you vomit. All that means your teeth have a battle with bacteria when you drink.
Breads—They don’t all taste sweet, but bread is a carb haven. Eating a lot of bread and not brushing afterward means you are damaging your teeth.
Pasta—See “Breads” above. Then, add to that the acidity of things like tomato sauce and you can see that your love affair with pasta is your mouth’s worst nightmare.