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Tooth savers; how to sneak a snack without sacrificing your dental health.

TOOTH SAVERS How to sneak a snack without sacrificing your dental health.

Getting pie-eyed over snack foods? Pack a toothbrush--at least until further notice. A cavity-free mouth may be a piece of cake by the year 2010, but for now we're stuck with our Water Piks, brushes, flosses, and common sense.

Immunologists at the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) say there may soon be a way to immunize against cake-and-candy-produced decay by inducing antibody formation in your saliva. Also on the horizon is "cloning" of new enamel in decayed teeth--researchers have identified one of the four genes responsible for the production of this enamel. And laser-beam therapy may soon be able to smooth out tooth pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth, which are breeding grounds for decay.

But in the meantime, if you're part of the 75 percent of all Americans sweet on snacks, it pays to snack smart. First, the good news: Snacking can be a good habit. A Pennsylvania State University nutritionist, Helen Guthrie, says people who snack between meals tend to have better-balanced diets than those who stick with the traditional three squares a day. She found no evidence the snackers were more overweight than nonsnackers. Those who ate both meals and snacks came closer to meeting their vitamin and mineral needs. For such people, snacks provided 20 percent of the day's food energy (calories), 15 percent of the day's important vitamins, 20 percent of most minerals, and 14 percent of the day's iron.

Now the Bad News

So what makes snacking bad? The wrong snack choices, snacking too often, and the absence of a faithful brush-floss-rinse follow-up. If you're guilty of all three, you're in for trouble.

There's even more bad news: So-called "health foods," such as many granolas, can have the same cavity-causing potentialas a chocolate bar. The NIDR study says rats fed 12 to 17 "nutritious" snacks a day for 2-1/2 years showed extensive decay. Granola, cereals, bananas, and raising get as many demerits as cupcakes.

Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in the mouth that digest carbohydrates produce acid, which in turn destroys tooth enamel. Sugar keeps bacteria making acid for 20 minutes after you've eaten. The carbohydrates that do the dirty work are supplied by many snack foods. (Even the carbohydrates in fiber-rich pasta, cereal, and breads can cause trouble when they ferment and you don't brush.) Although citrus fruits are an important part of a balanced diet, orange, grapefruit, and lemon juices can be as hazardous to dental health as some soft drinks. They contain citric acid and fructose, the fruit sugar in all fruits, and they can eventually wear away enamel, even the tooth root covering. To deter damage, avoid chewable vitamin C tablets, and don't suck on lemon, lime, or orange wedges. Use lemon juice for tea, salads, and fish in moderation.

Satisfying the Snack Attack

It's easy to satisfy a snack attack without sacrificing your dental health. First, choose tooth-friendly foods. Have sparkling mineral water, not sugar-laden soda, for example. Certain cheeses, especially Cheddar, actually slow down decay by neutralizing acids. Cheese is also rich in the two most important tooth-health nutrients--calcium and phosphorus.

Step 2; Read labels. Ninety percent of all processed snacks contain sugar as a flavor enhancer. Tip-off terms: any word ending in "ose" as well as corn syrup, molasses, or honey.

Step 3: Eat well and widely from all the food groups. A nutritional imbalance anywhere in the body can make you more susceptible to dental disease. In addition to calcium and phosphorus, folic acid and vitamin C are important nutrients for dental health. (Studies at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston indicate that vitamin C as a mouthwash kills and prevents regrowth of one specific kind of bacteria implicated in periodontal disease.) Good noncitrus sources of vitamin C include strawberries, kiwi fruit, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, which have twice the vitamin C of oranges.

Such snacks as carrots, cheese, nuts, and celery should rank high on you snack list because they are least harmful to teeth, the American Dental Association says. Fluoride counts, too. Fluoride combines with enamel to increase tooth resistance to acid attack and decay. It also mixes with plaque and saliva; it thus may impair the bacteria's ability to produce acid. Three "natural fluoride" foods for snack breaks: some sparkling mineral waters, tea, and seafood.

Step 4 is after-snack hygiene:

* Brush or rinse after each snack. Best decay-reducing threesome: a toothbrush with soft, rounded bristles, a fluoride paste, and dental floss.

* Keep a portable tooth-care kit in your briefcase or purse and in the glove compartment of your car.

* If you can't brush, eat a cube of cheese as a snack "chaser," or rinse your mouth thoroughly with water.

With smart snacking and dental diligence, maybe there really is a way to have your cake can eat it, too--at least once in a while.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Goulart, Frances Sheridan
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1986
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