Following June’s designation as National Candy Month, it’s time to celebrate National Ice Cream Day on the third Sunday of July. (In fact, the entire month of July is National Ice Cream Month.) One might think that with all these sweets, August might be National Cavity Month. You’ll be happy to learn that there are sensible ways to enjoy ice cream and other sweet snacks without ruining your teeth.
Isn’t Dairy Good for Teeth?
Dairy products contain calcium and vitamins A and D, which are all necessary for healthy teeth and bones. Since ice cream is typically made with milk, it may seem like a healthy alternative compared to some snacks.
Unfortunately, the amount of vitamins and minerals is small in relation to the recommended daily allowance. Plus, ice cream is also packed with sugar and saturated fat, so it’s hardly a “healthy” treat.
Sugar is the Culprit
In ice cream, the troubling ingredient for teeth is sugar. Sugar by itself doesn’t cause cavities, but its presence increases the chances of tooth decay.
Tooth decay occurs when there is a buildup of plaque. Plaque is a sticky substance made up of acids and bacteria that coats the teeth. When it’s not cleaned off of the teeth, the acids will eventually eat through the hard tooth enamel causing a cavity.
Some acids come directly from foods and beverages we consume, like citrus fruits, coffee, tomato products, carbonated beverages. Another source of acid is from the chemical reaction of bacteria mixing with saliva in the mouth. All types of bacteria live in the human mouth. But bacteria’s favorite food is any type of carbohydrate, especially sugar. So, the more sugar there is to fuel the bacteria, the more it will grow. More bacteria means more acid—and more cavity-causing plaque.
Do I Have to Give Up Ice Cream?
We would never suggest that you give up ice cream entirely. Especially not during National Ice Cream Month! While it’s true that ice cream is filled with sugar, it can still be enjoyed without causing cavities. It may not be the best dental-friendly food, but it isn’t the worst either.
Some foods rinse off the teeth easier than others. Ice cream is one of them. It doesn’t stay in contact with the teeth for very long. Instead, saliva washes most of it away when it’s eaten. Saliva doesn’t remove it completely though. It can still leave a film of bacteria behind that needs to be cleaned off by brushing.
Other sweets are worse than ice cream for your teeth. Gummy candies and caramels will stick to teeth much longer, allowing the bacteria to feed off their sugars. Even snacks that might be considered healthy, such as dried fruit and raisins can be problematic since they contain sugar and stick to teeth. Hard candies that are in the mouth for a long time are harmful too. And sour candy’s acids can attack enamel no matter how long they’re on teeth.
So, compared to many candies and other sweets, ice cream is actually one of the better choices.
Tips for Healthier Ice Cream Eating
By following some simple tips, you can avoid some of the tooth decay risks of eating ice cream:
- Eating ice cream for dessert after a meal is better than as a between-meal snack. Eating a meal gets the saliva going. Saliva will help rinse away food particles left behind by the meal and the after-dinner treat.
- Avoid add-ons. Adding sugary syrups, caramel, candies, and whip cream will not only add to the sugar content but possibly the stickiness too. Likewise, watch what’s mixed into your ice cream. A plain flavor is better than something like Moose Tracks or Rocky Road.
- Brush your teeth after eating ice cream or any sweets—but wait about 30 minutes to give saliva the chance to work. Brushing is the only surefire way to clean your teeth after eating.
- If you can’t brush, drink water or swish it around in your mouth. This will help rinse off most of the ice cream until you can.
- All things in moderation. As with any food or drink that has the potential to be unhealthy, don’t overdo it. The occasional sweet treat is fine, but realize that the more you indulge, the greater the risk.
Ice Cream Alternatives
Ice cream lovers may scoff, but there are some other icy snacks that can satisfy a sweet tooth.
- Thanks to the recent popularity of the Keto diet, several brands offer low-sugar/low-carb options.
- Sorbet and sherbet often have less sugar than ice cream, especially if they are made with fresh fruit. Beware of frozen yogurt, though. Many brands compensate for being low fat by adding more sugar.
- Frozen bananas or frozen pops made with other fresh fruit may be a healthier alternative.
- Try making your own homemade ice cream. You can regulate the amount of sugar while experimenting with different flavors.
Enjoy a Scoop or Two
Although we can try to resist it or find an alternative, there’s really nothing like a scoop of cool, creamy ice cream, especially on a hot July day.
Go ahead and indulge. Just remember to brush afterward and visit a dentist regularly. You can enjoy National Ice Cream Day and a keep a healthy smile too.