Is it safe to cut fruits out of your diet for the rest of your life?
January 27, 2014 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently a 23-year-old with rapidly deteriorating teeth. I had braces from 2005-2008, which compromised my ability to clean thoroughly (I recall spending around 45 minutes twice a day cleaning and brushing my teeth, yet apparently that wasn't enough to prevent decay). So, when I had my braces taken off in 2008, I was left with a whole bunch of cavities that needed to be filled -- mostly around the back teeth/molars.

Fast forward to the present day, and some of my back teeth are now severely weakened from all the fillings (one tooth in particular has had 5 fillings, and now, after having tooth pain from it for the past several weeks, needs a root canal). There are also some newly-developed cavities *underneath* some of the old fillings, from which bacteria probably entered through cracks (I do NOT know how that can happen, as I thought properly-done fillings would effectively seal off bacteria).

Anyway, long story short, my teeth are quite fragile, and there apparently exist cracks in the old fillings which I'm not aware of (is this the dentist's fault for failing to make sure the fillings bonded well enough?). So I now have to be VERY careful about everything that I eat, especially since I have 'dry-mouth' and find it hard to reach the very back when brushing.

I'm thinking about cutting sweet foods out of my diet entirely, for an indefinite period of time and possibly for the rest of my life. I will not miss them, since I hate sweet foods. Meanwhile, I do get cravings for sweet drinks every once in a while, so I've opted to drink those out of straws to minimize contact with teeth.

So this diet regime will obviously exclude fruits. I am pretty certain that I can acquire all the nutrients, vitamins, and anti-oxidants from vegetables (and vitamin supplements when need be), so I don't need any fruits to stay healthy. Is this assumption correct?
posted by vanizorc to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think getting the old filings redone and the cavities underneath fixed up should be your first plan of action. You don't have to suffer cracked filings! I have had old bad filings redone and it is very easy. Are you going to do that?

In terms of dry mouth, drink plenty of water and that should help keep your mouth hydrated.

You could make smoothies with fruit and yogurt and drink those through straws too, to get nutrients from fruit without involving your teeth.
posted by cakebatter at 12:24 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have terrible teeth. My dentist recommends brushing after meals to remove food particles, and if I'm going to have a sweetened drink, then drink it in a reasonable amount of time and follow it with water. I can be in the habit of sipping at a soda or coffee to make it last, and the dentist said that is really bad for teeth. He has not told me to stop consuming sugar, but rather to make sure I don't let the sugar sit on my teeth for long periods of time. So I think you don't have to cut these things out of your diet entirely.
posted by cabingirl at 12:27 PM on January 27, 2014

Like you, I have had terrible teeth and lots and lots and lots of cavities and fillings.

Now, after several root canals and crowns things are going much better - the crowns hold up far better than the real teeth did and have been trouble free.

Teeth can develop cavities under filings, around fillings, and near to fillings irrespective of the quality of the work. If your teeth are make of weaker stuff (like mine) the fillings only delay the inevitable.

Tooth decay comes from more places than sweets. Cutting out sweets won't solve your problem which is weak teeth. I'd advise you to live your life normally, and put money away for future dental treatments the way my wife saves for eyeglasses and exams and my cousin saves for a new wheelchair every so many years.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:28 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you're gonna be fine and dandy.

Fruits have more sugar, basically, but there isn't any vitamins you'd be deficient in if you just ate vegetables instead, or things that are technically 'fruits' but with less sugar - avocado, peppers, eggplant and zucchini/courgettes are all 'fruits'.

This is a pretty simplistic and basic comparison, but if you want the reassurance:

But yeah, focus on looking after your teeth. If you just don't want to eat fruit, no problem, but it shouldn't be your only approach to looking after your teeth.
posted by Elysum at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't eat fruit or take supplements. I live!
posted by Jairus at 12:32 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your fillings should probably not be failing this soon, no. But if they are, you should definitely prioritize seeing someone to have them redone, because you should be able to eat fine with properly-done fillings.
posted by Sequence at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2014

I think you'd be fine without fruit. But for your dry mouth there are biotene products... My mom used them when chemo dried up her mouth, and for protecting your teeth from acid it can help to chew on an antacid and swish around with it...and there is also mi paste... It's got great reviews and supposed to be like vitamins for your teeth...
posted by misspony at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sweets aren't the only thing that causes decay. Eventually, you might need to get crowns for all those teeth. Once that happens your problems will be reduced. It will be expensive (get dental insurance now if you can). Also, you may be able to go to a reputable dental school and get the work done for a minimal amount.

I just don't think that cutting sweets is going to solve your problem.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:53 PM on January 27, 2014

Also, I've heard that brushing right after you've been sick can cause the acid to do more damage- people dont realise that...not sure if the same goes for after acidic food- but it might be worth asking your dentist.
posted by misspony at 1:02 PM on January 27, 2014

As others have said, it's not specifically just sweets that promote tooth decay; it's carbs in general, including bread, rice, potatoes, etc. Also, it's not really the amount of carbs that promotes decay, it's the time your teeth are exposed to the carbs. So eating a meal with carbs (or even eating candy) and then brushing soon thereafter is a lot better than eating the same meal (or candy) and not brushing till right before bed. This also means that sipping sugary drinks all day is problematic, even if you use a straw (though the straw will probably help a little).
posted by scody at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2014

If you have dry mouth, that contributes to tooth decay. Seconding the Biotene products. They really do help with dry mouth.

Drink lots of plain water. That will help keep your mouth moist, wash away food particles, and it's good for more than just your teeth. Be sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet or through supplements.

Ask your dentist about fluoride treatments - they're not just for kids. My dentist will give her adult patients fluoride treatments to help sensitive or fragile teeth. She also recommended that I use a strong fluoride toothpaste (either a prescription or Crest Pro Health) and/or a fluoride rinse (prescription only in my case).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:10 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Be aware that "sugar" alone isn't the culprit; it's sugary and starchy stuff that _sticks_ to your teeth. Starch turns into sugar.

Drinking some juice may not cause as much problem -- since it will rinse away very quickly -- as eating chewy bread that will stick in between your teeth for hours. I've read somewhere that even hard candy, which dissolves fairly quickly when eaten in isolation, is far less problematic than chewy starchy foods; even celery, which has low sugar, could lodge between your teeth and hold other sugary substances there.

Fruits of course have fiber in them, and when you bite or chew fruits that can get between your teeth. However, starchy foods are a greater part of most peoples' diets and contain plenty of sugary action.

I also read somewhere recently that brushing _right_ after eating may be worse than waiting a few minutes, due to increased acidity in the mouth from eating, but I have no idea if this is actually true.

I'd recommend rinsing your mouth with water (lukewarm, if your teeth are sensitive to cold) right after eating, avoiding foods that stick between your teeth, using toothpicks (in private, please), and brushing with a soft brush.

If you can, a water pik can be awesome for getting food out from between your teeth. Again, lukewarm water is great for this if your teeth are sensitive to cold. (I also love to use one, with a tiny bit of baking soda in the water, before going to the dentist, as I think that it makes my mouth far more pleasant as a workplace).

Please do your own checking, and don't just take my third-hand hearsay as a basis for action. However, if you're being super careful with your teeth, it's worth considering that just cutting out sugar isn't going to be a perfect solution.
posted by amtho at 1:21 PM on January 27, 2014

So this diet regime will obviously exclude fruits. I am pretty certain that I can acquire all the nutrients, vitamins, and anti-oxidants from vegetables (and vitamin supplements when need be), so I don't need any fruits to stay healthy. Is this assumption correct?

If you're really going to do this, the best way to make sure you aren't genuinely malnourished is to eat meat. Fresh meat has all essential nutrients in it. It is in fact possible to live on meat alone, though it's pretty uncommon and I have no idea if it's a good idea. (I doubt there's enough data. But for instance Owsley Stanley was semi-famous-in-a-small-circle for being a pure carnivore for a long while.)

I agree with everyone else that giving up fruit probably isn't the best solution to your dental problems. (I also agree that Biotene mouthwash is awesome.) But if you eat a normal carnivorous US-type diet, you could give up fruit and you wouldn't end up with scurvy or kwashiorkor or anything dreadful like that.
posted by this is a thing at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have crappy teeth and like you am due for some crowns on the back molars sometime over the next decade, having had multiple fillings on those teeth beginning when I was a young teenager (I'm 31). I've had more than 40 fillings in my life, but only about 1 per year for the last few years, mostly by:

1) Quitting smoking
2) Electric toothbrush
3) Flossing every day. Every. Day.
4) Fluoride rinse every day. Every. Day.
5) Switch from sugared soda to diet soda (and fewer of those)
6) Dental visits every six months-deep clean really helps, catch problems early

I would try all of those things before cutting out sweets. I know that I take better care of my teeth with worse results than most people my age and that is sort of irritating, but everyone has their battles. I wish that I had started taking better care of my teeth when I was your age-not that it's the end of the world or anything, but fillings are unpleasant, time consuming, and expensive.
posted by Kwine at 1:49 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, thanks for all the info, folks! I didn't know carbs damaged your teeth as badly as the simple sugars in fruits and candy do. It's probably better for me to avoid *sticky* foods, rather than sweet foods per se. I do try to brush soon after eating anything sugary, but this is not always possible as I am often out and about and on my feet, in which I often have no choice but to wait until I get home at night to brush (by which point I'm sure my mouth is already dangerously acidic). And good idea that I could make drinkable fruit smoothies through a straw.

Some clarifying points:

- My 'dry-mouth' condition has nothing to do with not being adequately hydrated. I could drink a gallon of water and in the next minute my mouth would still be dry as a desert. I simply lack a sufficient amount of the enzymes necessary to produce saliva. For this problem, I have now started to use Biotene toothpaste since last month, and it has helped some. The chewing-anti-acid method sounds interesting, but I'm not sure if consuming anti-acid medication when I have no medical need for it is safe.

- I do sometimes use a fluoride mouthwash right after brushing, before bedtime. A water-pik sounds like a good idea for further protection.

- When I'm on the go and do not have the opportunity to brush immediately after a meal, I do rinse my mouth with water in hopes of loosening/dissolving the harmful food particles stuck on my teeth. I hope this method is as effective as brushing.

- The problem with having my fillings re-done over and over is that each time it's re-done, the drill and fillings become that much deeper and closer to the nerve. Enough re-fillings, and it may lead to (another) eventual root-canal procedure. I want to avoid this.

- I'm glad to hear that deteriorating fillings is quite normal, and that crowns usually hold up better than real teeth. I'm betting my future on it, since I don't have dental insurance.
posted by vanizorc at 1:59 PM on January 27, 2014

Long shot, but if you're a vegan, or might otherwise not be getting enough fat-soluble vitamins, I'd look into supplementing those ASAP.
posted by pie ninja at 2:07 PM on January 27, 2014

There is a large community of people who not only don't eat any fruit, but who mainly eat meat. Look up keto (particularly reddit's active r/keto community). I don't have an issue with cavities but I had issues with my gums that a keto diet resolved. However I did develop a cavity on a low-carb diet. The dentist said it was probably because I was drying out my mouth by breathing through it while I slept. I haven't had a cavity since then though. I do take an oral probiotic so maybe that's helped. I don't eat low-carb anymore, but I get most of my carbs from rice, which is considered less cariogenic than wheat and corn.

Also I always wait 30 minutes after eating something questionable, particularly things that are acidic:
But research shows that brushing too soon after meals and drinks, especially those that are acidic, can do more harm than good. Acid reflux poses a similar problem: While it might seem like a good idea to brush after a reflux episode, doing so can damage your teeth.
If you are on the go, a gum with xylitol (shown in research to prevent cavities) might be a good solution. I use the Chios Mastic Gum with Xylitol.
posted by melissam at 2:10 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also this post by biochemist Stephan Guyenet might interest you Reversing Tooth Decay.
posted by melissam at 2:12 PM on January 27, 2014

For on-the-go mouth care, if you don't have the ability to carry a toothbrush, floss is probably even better than brushing. Toothpicks are an alternate -- they won't get between your teeth as much as floss, but they may stimulate your gums better.

Really, toothpaste is nice, but it's removing the food that's most important. Flossing is _so_ helpful.
posted by amtho at 2:35 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

> It's probably better for me to avoid *sticky* foods, rather than sweet foods per se

I Have Heard that potato chips are one of the worst snacks you can have, from a dental perspective, for that very reason.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:47 PM on January 27, 2014

Xylimelts were life savers for me when I was dealing with chronic dry mouth.
posted by corey flood at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2014

vanizorac, the problem is your dry mouth. I say this because you stated that you actually have the kind of dry mouth that gallons of water won't help with and that's something I'm very familiar with.

I always had good teeth but then about eight or nine years ago my teeth started disintegrating like crazy. I couldn't afford it at all, but counter-attacked with all the dental work I could afford until some very kind dentist told me what was going on - dry mouth. His own words were that nothing causes cavities and decay faster than a dry mouth. I'm on oxygen at a constant, high-liter flow and consequently have air blowing into my teeth from the nasopharynx (in between inhalations, the oxygen blows into my mouth).

I also take a lot of meds and many of them contribute to a dry mouth. Many people take meds that do this and they have no idea that their tooth decay is not because they're not cleaning their teeth adequately but because their mouth is dry.

I don't know what to tell you. I've lost so many teeth now but can't afford to have what's left pulled and replaced with dentures. I'm fortunate in that respect because I'm old and it isn't necessary for me to have a pretty smile like it is for young people, but I hope you find an answer and I'm sorry to sound so negative - I just hate to see people spend so much money fighting what's a losing battle when they have a chronic dry-mouth condition.

Good luck to you.
posted by aryma at 9:27 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

- The Xylitol gum sounds like a good idea while out and about. Most of the bigger gum companies like Trident and Stride already include Xylitol, but I'll make sure to specifically look for this agent in all gum that I buy from now on.

- Xylimelts!! Sounds like a godsend; I'll definitely try those out. Funny enough, I was just about to ask if anyone knew of oral medication for dry-mouth.

- That fact about the potato chips surprises me. This entire time I was under the impression that salty snacks were actually *good* for your teeth, due to their salt content (in the same way as salt water rinses are supposed to be cleansing). Apparently not :/

- It's interesting to know that the biggest factor for tooth decay is how *long* food particles stay on your teeth (rather than how *much* sugar you consume in one sitting). For this reason, I rinse my mouth with water after meals whenever possible. However, I'm beginning to wonder if my cavity-proneness is because of acidic saliva. I shall have to run some tests. Also, my teeth has lots of nooks and crannys I cannot so easily access even with a toothbrush, which is why my line of defense was to *cut as many sweet foods from my diet as possible*, rather than attempt to brush immediately after every meal (which would likely fail to eliminate all sugar particles from my teeth no matter how hard I tried).

- I am sort of already on an "Atkins" diet, or some variation thereof. I avoid sweet foods whenever possible and most of my diet is made up of rice, vegetables, fish, and meat (rice is an everyday thing since we're Chinese). I will look into this "Keto diet" to garner more insights.
posted by vanizorc at 9:35 PM on January 27, 2014

-@aryma: Thanks for your testimony. I too was told by my dentist that dry-mouth contributes to tooth decay, but never that it was the *primary* reason. Never knew it was so insidious; I will try to eliminate or mitigate this condition as soon as I can. The Biotene toothpaste I'm using only helps a tiny bit, so I'll have to look at other solutions (possibly the Xylimelts). I suppose that dry-mouth is the underlying reason for my (suspected) acidic saliva as well. For the enzyme deficiency, I wonder if hypothyroidism has caused it -- I suffer from dry skin everywhere, not only the mouth region, so there is likely a link. I'll check in with my doctor. (I'm not on any meds, so this can be ruled out.)

I clean my teeth meticulously and yet continuously get decay -- it's so infuriating, and I admit I envy those people who rarely brush and never get cavities. They don't know how blessed they are. My parents constantly yell at me about 23 being too young for root canals and how much of their insurance money I'm using up, as if it's my fault. I try to keep as clean as I can, but it just never seems to fend off cavities! (Looks like getting rid of dry-mouth is the first step.) Just kind of depressed right now because my parents' coverage runs out this year, and I have no idea how I'll pay for my urgent dental procedures without insurance help.
posted by vanizorc at 10:03 PM on January 27, 2014

Tums antacids are just calcium. You can take too many but it's tough to do.
posted by emkelley at 6:59 AM on January 28, 2014

Also, if you haven't yet, try Biotene mouthwash in addition to the toothpaste. I find the toothpaste helps maybe a little with dry mouth related cruddiness, but the mouthwash helps a great deal.
posted by this is a thing at 7:29 AM on January 28, 2014

An old remedy for a dry mouth is to suck on a pebble - it might be worth a try.
posted by aryma at 4:59 PM on January 28, 2014

So totally random, but something to keep in mind. Someone I know had terrible teeth like you. Just one disaster after another. Dental work and her teeth would deteriorate way faster than they should. This went on for years. Turns out she's allergic to something they put in fillings which basically made her teeth deteriorate around them. Something to ask your dentist about since your situation seems unusual.
posted by whoaali at 6:44 PM on January 28, 2014

On the xylitol front, have you heard of the Zellies Complete Mouth Care System? I've been using it for a few weeks and have found it very helpful. Basically, she combines a system of 3 mouth rinses and brushing with use of xylitol to kill off cavity-creating bacteria and to allow teeth to remineralize themselves. Using xylitol after eating will alkalize your mouth and prevent the acid from causing damage. I've only been using it a few weeks, but have already felt results.
posted by munichmaiden at 3:44 PM on January 29, 2014

Came in to point out that other foods are just as bad and nthing the sugar free gum, but be careful with the xylitol and other sugar alcohols (fake sugars, usually recognizable by ending in -itol, commonly found in anything labeled "sugar free"), they can have a laxative effect if you eat too much. (It was even one of the clinic cases on the show House, but I can't find the clip.)
posted by anaelith at 8:04 AM on February 1, 2014

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