The ONE problem with intuitive eating

Cavities. It’s the cavities, y’all.

I just got three fillings at the dentist. Threeeeeee! And my old fillings are starting to need fancy new fillings. And man oh man, fancy fillings get expensive.

Why do I get so many cavities? I’ve always thought of myself as a dental hygiene superstar. I preach nightly flossing to whoever will listen, and I get a cleaning twice a year like clockwork.

And like clockwork, there’s a cavity or three to contend with.

While I’ve been patting myself on the back for practicing better dental habits than some people, I should have been focusing on doing enough for me. Every body is different, and that includes my darned teeth. I need to keep my eyes on my own paper.

I’ve always been cavity-prone, and at every checkup, the dentist inevitably asks lifestyle questions to try to suss out the problem. I always seem to have the “right” answers:

Do you drink soda? No.

Do you use fluoride toothpaste? Yes.

Do you eat a lot of candy? Not particularly.

But this time was different. The dentist asked a question I hadn’t considered before, and I think I finally get what’s going on:

Do you do a lot of snacking? …………..oh lordy yes I do.

I’m a grazer. I’m not a three-meals-and-done person — that’s not how my hunger works. I snack throughout the day whenever my body tells me it wants some fuel. Between morning and nighttime brushing, that’s 14+ hours of my teeth coming into contact with food. That’s a long time! Twice as long as the time I’m asleep, and I would never think of going to bed without brushing first.

And for the record: this is not meant to condemn snacks or any particular kind of food. My aha moment is that cavities are not just about candy and sugar; they’re about food in contact with teeth. Beans, crackers, vegetables, bread, chips, fruit — practically anything you eat can change the pH balance in your mouth, which can lead to a cavity.

So forgive me if what I’m about to say is unspeakably obvious, but it took decades for this genius to get the message. Here’s how my dental hygienist explained it for this to finally, finally click:

When you eat, some bits of food get stuck in the crevices of your teeth. The bacteria contained in the food bits can start to form colonies, which ultimately cause cavities — unless you disrupt them. To disrupt them, you have to do something disruptive, like brushing your teeth or rinsing with mouthwash. (My dentist recommended an alcohol-free mouthwash and a prescription extra-fluoride toothpaste.)

Brushing and mouthwashing after eating? Oy. The irony. It’s just like my diet days when I tried to “trick” my insatiable appetite with minty flavors. Since recovering from binge eating, it has become a weird point of pride that I don’t need the tricks anymore. I can sit with the taste of food in my mouth. It has no bearing on my hunger or fullness.

But now it’s time to get reacquainted with midday dental habits. This time it’s on my terms. This time it’s about body love, not body hate.

So in conclusion, a little intuitive eating addendum: If you’re a cavity-prone snacker like me, eat whatever you want whenever you want it. Then swish a little mouthwash.

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