How takeaways impact on your dental health

AS Christmas draws closer, finding the time to buy and wrap all those presents means fast food is an easy option. But it’s not just the extra calories you need to consider, as Ella Walker discovers
Calories aren't the only threat that takeaways present. Picture: PACalories aren't the only threat that takeaways present. Picture: PA
Calories aren't the only threat that takeaways present. Picture: PA

Cooking from scratch is all well and good. But sometimes, there’s nothing better - especially at the weekend, or on Friday nights after a busy week - than settling down in front of the TV with a huge slab of pizza straight out of a takeaway box, or a bowlful of sweet and sour chicken and egg fried rice that just got delivered to your door.

We know it’s not exactly good for us - all that grease and cheese, and all that contact with a deep fat fryer, is kind of a giveaway - but there are other factors to consider before taking another bite out of that kebab.

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And when one in five of us indulges in at least one takeaway a week, according to research by the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR), that’s a lot of non-home-made cooking finding its way into our systems.

Watch out for these not-so-tasty consequences.

Takeaways and teeth

While we expect sweets and chocolate to have a nasty impact on our teeth, did you know that savoury takeaway foods can inflict acid erosion, staining and tooth decay on our mouths too?

Dr Sameer Patel, clinical director at Elleven (, warns that white pizza bases and pastas are refined carbohydrates, containing simple sugars that dissolve quickly and cause a spike in mouth acid. Combine that with the acid in the tomato puree usually found in pizza toppings, and you have the perfect environment for enamel erosion.

When it comes to Indian and Chinese takeaways, the use of spices and sauces that are heavily pigmented can cause staining - so go sparingly on the curry powder and soy sauce. Dr Sameer advices eating “an appetiser of spinach or broccoli first, as these green veggies form a protective film over teeth, making them less porous and susceptible to staining”.

Fish and chips aren’t free from blame either. Starchy as they are, they’re also foods that are prone to getting stuck in your teeth and can be highly processed, meaning packed with hidden preservatives, sugar and salt.

“Sugar can come in many different forms and the batter on fish and associated sauces, such as ketchup, are culprits for having a high sugar content,” confirms Dr Sameer.

Are supermarket sandwiches as bad as takeaways?

You might think buying a quick supermarket salad, wrap or sandwich for lunch isn’t the same as “getting takeout”, but the effect on your body isn’t always that different.

The sauces in wraps are often high in sugar, and those small, ‘healthy looking’ ready-made pasta salads can sometimes be full of hidden calories (so always read the label).

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Even a shop-bought soup can contain almost 5g of salt per serving, and according to the NHS, we shouldn’t be eating more than 6g a day, in order to prevent things like high blood pressure and stroke.

How meat can harm your jaws

It’s not just your teeth feeling the pain. Chowing down on large amounts of chewy, tough textured foods - such as the meat found in doner kebabs - can impact on the joints in your jaw, leading to aches, pains and, in extreme cases, jaw misalignment.

Dr Sameer explains: “Any time you overuse a certain set of muscles, it can lead to contracted muscles and related pain, including headaches, and toothaches over time.”

To avoid overworking your jaw and overextending ligaments and muscles, he suggests cutting down on tough-to-bite foods and using both sides of your mouth to chew, to spread the workload.

• As always, the healthiest diet is one that is balanced, with fatty, sugary foods eaten in moderation. If you’re worried about your health or the state of your teeth, speak to your GP or dentist.