We’re not going to tell you to stop snacking entirely, so you can cross that worry off your list. But any dentist will probably recommend snacking smarter. Many snack foods, and the way that you snack, can hurt your teeth by promoting tooth decay.

Let’s go over why tooth decay happens. You eat something, and the bacteria in your mouth breaks down whatever you’re eating into sugars, then into acid waste, which damages your tooth enamel and can eventually cause cavities. Fortunately, your saliva eventually neutralizes the acid and cleans up leftover foods, so everything is returned to normal.

But snacking can make things a lot harder on your teeth. This is because if you snack constantly throughout the day, your saliva has much less time to neutralize the acid waste in your mouth. It takes a while to accomplish, so if you’re constantly adding more food, you’re adding more acid at greater risk of tooth decay. So the first step in snacking smarter is to snack less. Moderation is key.

The other main part of snacking responsibly lies in what you snack on. Sugary foods are OK to eat sometimes, but they absolutely contribute more to tooth decay. Hard or sticky candies are especially bad to snack on, as they tend to stay in the mouth much longer. Carb-filled foods like pasta or chips also promote tooth decay and do not make good snacks if you’re trying to avoid it.

But then what should you snack on? You should eat healthy foods as a general rule. Snacking’s no different, really! Treat yourself to fruits and vegetables like apples, or eat some dairy products like cheese to build up calcium. Drink water instead of juice or soda and eat foods with lots of protein. You can even chew gum, as long as it’s sugarless, since it helps stimulate saliva and remove food detritus.

In short, the best way to snack is less often and with healthier foods. Doing this can strengthen and protect your teeth, instead of the opposite. We won’t hold you up to difficult standards of never eating sweets or chips, but the more you minimize it, the healthier your smile will be. As always, consult your dentist if you have any questions.

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