We talk a lot about how to replace sugary snacks that harm your teeth and foods that stain your teeth, but our Cary dentists wanted to take an opportunity to focus specifically on gum health. After all, healthy gum tissue is necessary to keep teeth in place and protect the delicate roots, and brushing, flossing, and regular dental checkups are just as important to your gums as they are your teeth. While many of the same foods that can be harmful to your teeth can also harm gum health because they support bacteria growth that can cause cavities, some foods are specifically irritating or damaging to gum tissue, causing pain and soreness in the mouth and increasing the risk of infection.

To help you know what to avoid or reduce in your diet, we’re breaking down the six worst foods for your gums.

3 Foods to Avoid for Gum Health

First, we want to highlight the foods you should simply cut out or reduce significantly in order to keep your gums healthy as they offer little to no health benefit and solely cause damage.

Sodas & Sports Drinks

Soda and sports drinks are filled with sugar which damages both teeth and gums. Bacteria in dental plaque feeds off of sugar, and as it attacks the sugar, it will create an acidic response. This, plus the fact that they are both already highly acidic beverages which also irritates gums and allows bacteria to grow means it’s best to just put the soda aside altogether.

It’s important to note that diet sodas aren’t much better for your gums as they are just as acidic as sugared drinks. Feeling thirsty? Reach for water, instead.

Gummy Candy

Candy is literally pure sugar, and candy like gummy bears, peppermints, or caramel are especially damaging. Sticky candy gets caught in crevices in and around the tooth, essentially sugar coating the tooth so bacteria can go on a feeding frenzy. While it’s really bad for your teeth, don’t forget, those same bacteria can eat away at gum tissue and cause receding gums and gingivitis.

As tasty as it is, skip the gummy or hard candies. If you have to indulge, choose a sugar-free gum or even a bit of chocolate that you can rinse away easily after you eat it.

Refined “White” Bread and Starches

Foods made from refined, white flour, like white bread and crackers are surprisingly damaging to your gums for the same reason sticky candy is. The whole grains have been broken down so all that’s left is a simple carbohydrate that breaks down into simple sugars. The same kind that’s in candy and pop. Bread products are also sticky as they break down, often getting caught at the base of the teeth where bacteria can thrive.

Instead, choose whole wheat or whole grain options which break down more slowly and are made of more complex carbohydrates.

3 Foods to Reduce in Your Diet

The following foods can irritate your gums but offer health benefits, so you may want to consider reducing them or rinsing after eating them.


The acids in tomatoes can erode your gums and even cause sores and pain. However, they’re also high in vitamins and the antioxidant, lycopene, so if you enjoy eating tomatoes, you may not want to cut them out completely. Instead, pair them with a more mild food that can neutralize the acids, like mozzarella cheese or chicken.

Oranges and Citrus Fruit

Like tomatoes, the high acid content can erode tissues, plus the natural sugars can feed bacteria. You may want to consider swapping out citrus for fruits lower in acid, like cantaloupe or kiwi or try vegetables that are high in vitamin C like spinach or broccoli. If you do enjoy oranges, just rinse with water after eating them.


Popcorn is tricky because the popped kernels can actually benefit your teeth by scrubbing away plaque. However, they can be hard on your gums, especially if you get a husk caught between your gum and tooth. Make sure to floss and rinse well after eating popcorn, and stick with plain or lightly buttered varieties (definitely not caramel corn!).

Learn More About Gum Health from Our Cary Dentists.

Your gums are just as crucial to your oral health as your teeth are, and we want to help you keep them in good condition. To schedule an appointment, Give our dentists in Cary a call at (919) 467-2203 or reach out to our Holly Springs dentist office at (919) 600-6262 and you can also use a contact form to request an appointment.