Understanding cariogenic foods: what they are and how they contribute to tooth decay

01 June · 4 minutes

"Indulging in too many sweets can lead to tooth loss!" This familiar statement has been echoed at some point in everyone's lives. From a tender age, whether at home, school, or during our initial visits to the dentist, one of the foremost lessons imparted regarding oral health is the potential harm posed by a sugar-laden diet. However, it's crucial to recognize that while sweets are among the primary culprits, they are not the sole contributors to tooth decay. In this article, we will delve into the connection between food and tooth decay, shedding light on cariogenic foods, non-cariogenic food alternatives, and the importance of consuming them in moderation.

What are cariogenic foods?

You may be curious about what cariogenic foods are. By definition, cariogenic food is what promotes the formation of cavities. They typically contain carbohydrates that are converted into sugars by saliva in the mouth. This process reduces the pH level, leading to the deterioration of tooth enamel and the subsequent development of cavities.

Cariogenic foods primarily consist of sugary and starchy items that encourage cavity formation. What is an example of cariogenic foods? Examples of cariogenic foods include sweets, cookies, cakes, sugary beverages, concentrated juices, and ice cream, among others.

When consuming cariogenic foods, various types of sugars like sucrose or fructose are ingested. Additionally, starchy snacks can also break down into sugars within the mouth, making them classified as cariogenic.

Woman picking a macaroon from a selection of cakes on a tiered cake stand.

How does food contribute to tooth decay?

There are bacteria that permanently reside in our mouths, some of which form plaque on the surface of our teeth. When we consume cariogenic foods, these bacteria in the plaque feed on the sugars and release them in the form of acids. These acids are highly corrosive and can demineralize the protective enamel covering our teeth, leading to the formation of cavities and how food contributes to tooth decay.

Each time we eat, harmful acids from plaque are generated in our mouths. These acids continue to harm our teeth for a minimum of 20 minutes before they are neutralized and no longer pose a threat. The frequency with which we consume cariogenic foods throughout the day directly contributes to how often we provide bacteria with the fuel they need to cause tooth decay.

Certain foods have a greater impact on tooth decay than others. Dental professionals recommend moderate consumption of sugar. A cariogenic diet, characterized by high carbohydrate and fermentable sugar intake, is not only detrimental to our teeth but also to our overall health. By limiting our sugar intake, we can reduce the production of acids by bacteria, thus safeguarding our enamel and promoting a healthier oral environment.

What foods can cause cavities and damage your teeth?

As previously mentioned, some foods on the list of tooth decay-causing culprits are quite evident. This holds true for sugary treats like cookies, candies, cakes, ice cream, and milkshakes, which rank among the most detrimental foods that damage teeth and cause cavities. However, there are other seemingly innocuous foods that also cause cavities and tooth decay. These include rice, noodles, and cereals, among others. Once again, this is due to the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars, which are subsequently converted into acids by the bacteria present in plaque.

Cariostatic foods that prevent tooth decay

Cariostic foods (also known as non-cariogenic foods) are foods that prevent or fight cavities and tooth decay. This is because they are not metabolized by the microorganisms in plaque. Here is a list of 10 non-cariogenic foods that not only provide our bodies with nutrition but also help fight and prevent tooth decay and cavities.

10 cariostatic foods

Almonds, an example of a non-cariogenic food, in a metal scoop.


Red meat, chicken, and pork do not generate harmful acids that can erode our tooth enamel.


Just like meat, fish has no bacterial fermentation so no harmful acids are formed when eating.


Cheese, rich in calcium, aids in replenishing the minerals in our teeth. Therefore, not only does it not contribute to cavities, but it also serves as a tooth-friendly food that assists in preventing tooth decay.

Non-acidic fruits

Fruit rich in fiber, such as apples and pears, help remove plaque from teeth.


Almonds and walnuts, among other nuts, are low in sugar and serve as excellent sources of calcium and protein.


Similar to cheese, milk contains calcium and phosphates that aid in the remineralization of tooth enamel.


The calcium present in natural yogurt assists in replenishing lost minerals in the teeth.


Including vegetables, especially fiber-rich ones, in your diet is another cariostatic food group that aids in preventing tooth decay. Consuming raw vegetables like celery, cucumber, or lettuce is particularly advantageous, as they not only contribute to dental health but also assist in combating gum diseases such as gingivitis due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, the act of chewing crunchy vegetables promotes saliva production, which further enhances oral health.

Sugar-free sweets

Sweets that incorporate non-acidic artificial sweeteners are also beneficial in the prevention of tooth decay.

Why is it important to consider the types of foods you are eating?

Prevention stands as the most effective approach for preserving optimal dental health. The development of cavities, beyond causing pain and discomfort, can present more significant problems than we might realize, underscoring the crucial importance of dental hygiene.

In addition to maintaining a diet low in cariogenic foods, proper oral hygiene involves brushing your teeth three times a day, following each meal. Regular utilization of supplementary products such as dental floss and mouthwashes amplifies cleaning efficacy, thwarting the accumulation of plaque and the formation of tartar.

Regular dental check-ups are essential and should not be overlooked. Furthermore, it is recommended to undergo professional teeth cleaning at least once a year, ensuring comprehensive oral care.

Your oral health is our priority at Impress

Maintaining optimal oral hygiene is crucial for promoting excellent oral health. It is highly recommended to regularly assess the condition of your teeth and gums, particularly if you are considering enhancing your smile through orthodontic treatment.

At Impress, the well-being of our patients takes precedence. Hence, we prioritize ensuring that our patients commence orthodontic treatment with a foundation of proper dental and gum health. With our comprehensive range of tools and skilled professionals, we can effectively detect cavities. Additionally, we are capable of providing guidance on any necessary dental procedures prior to initiating your orthodontic treatment.

Interested in starting orthodontic treatment? Find an Impress clinic near you! You can book your complimentary consultation via our website or by phone at +1 628.265.8188.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

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