Nuts: A Healthy Snack?by Dr. Richard Janis on 04/30/19
When I went to dental school, there was very little information given to us about nutrition. Other than the relationship between sugar and dental decay, I only remember one day of lecture in 4 years that dealt with the subject. As a result, I have never considered myself an expert on nutrition, although I have attempted to learn more over the years.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog which I titled “The Cracked Tooth” The Cracked Tooth : Blogs Written by Dr. Richard Janis in which I discussed the increase in cracked teeth I had been noticing in recent years compared to earlier in my career. A check on dental forums confirmed what I had been noticing and some endodontists (root canal specialists) were even calling it an epidemic. No one seems to know the cause but an increase in teeth grinding (as a result of stress) is thought to be the biggest reason.
Whenever a patient of mine breaks a tooth, I ask what they were eating. Sometimes it is nothing hard at all and the tooth was just ready to break from a large filling or a crack, the food truly being a case of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. But what I have come to notice is that often the cause of a tooth breaking is nuts, a healthy snack. The irony is not lost on me that the patient is doing something good for themselves, eating a healthy snack and as a result, their tooth breaks.
No question about, nuts are a healthy snack when it comes to your general health. They are a good source of fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat, in addition to containing many important vitamins and minerals. But look what they have done to some of my patients’ teeth! In one recent week, 3 patients broke their teeth eating almonds!
Studies show that people that eat nuts live longer than those who don’t. This is probably due to a their role in the prevention of certain chronic diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I even found one study that showed nuts to be significantly associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Some of the nuts known to be good for your health are almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, and pecans.
As far as your teeth, there are some benefits from nuts. Many are low in carbohydrates so they do not add to the risk of decay. Chewing nuts also reduces your risk for cavities by stimulating saliva production. So it is not exactly correct to say that nuts are “good for your health but bad for your teeth” because they can be good for your teeth but there can be some negative consequences as well.
Almonds seem to be the nut that I have seen break the most teeth. They are healthy but their texture is hard and can put stress on your teeth and cause cracks. I have one patient that broke two teeth eating almonds (one cracked down the whole root and required an extraction and an implant). She still eats almonds but tells me that she now eats them sliced.
What are some suggestions to continue eating this healthy snack but also to protect your teeth? One thing, with almonds at least, is to eat them sliced as my patient now does. Soaking them before eating can also make them softer and many believe this provides health benefits as well. If anyone has other ideas on how to make eating nuts safer for your teeth, please share them and I can put them in the comments section.
Pictures of the damage caused to some of my patients: