Barbecue Sauce can be the Pits for Your Teeth

When it comes to condiments, the only thing Texans may like better than hot sauce is barbecue sauce.

barbecue sauce photo
Photo by Breville USA

The history of barbecue in Texas is as rich as barbecue sauce itself, and the Lone Star State is home to a number of barbecue and sauce celebrations, including the Texas Monthly’s annual TMBBQ Fest right here in Austin. Although barbecue sauce is pleasing to the palette, its ingredients can conduct some slow cooking on your teeth.

BBQ: Deep in the Heart of Texas

The tradition for slow-cooking pork and sausage was likely brought to Texas by early German and Czechoslovakian immigrants, according to the National Barbecue & Grilling Association (NBBQA). Over time, as cattle ranching became a major industry, Texas barbecue shifted from pork to beef (especially brisket).

Between the 1960s and 1970s, Texas oil-rig workers furthered the art of barbecue by constructing massive, heavy duty cookers out of oil barrels. These rugged cookers contained internal “pits” and were outfitted with “boxes” that held coal or wood and allowed the meat to be cooked slowly with moderate, indirect heat.

Texas BBQ: The Secret Sauce

Barbecue methods vary greatly by region and depending on the food being barbecued. Sauces likewise differ, though most include the basic elements of a vinegar and tomato paste or tomato sauce mix (or ketchup), as well as liquid smoke, spices, and sugar or molasses.

While the meats in Southern-style barbecue are often marinated in sauce and slathered in more sauce during cooking, Texas-style barbecue often saves the sauce until the meat is cooked. As an NPR report about Texas barbecue notes, Texans generally rub the meat with spices or baste the meat with a light mixture of beer, lemon juice and vinegar or some similar combination, then serve barbecue sauce on the side. Texas barbecue sauces range from thin, ketchup-based mixtures with a vinegary bite to thick concoctions that balance spiciness and sweetness.

Barbecue Sauce and Your Teeth

Unfortunately, many barbecue sauces are high in sugars and acids that can damage teeth. Much like barbecue sauce clings to meat, it also coats the teeth.

The sugar in barbecue sauce, whether as molasses or granulated sugar, nourishes bacteria in the mouth that produce acid. This acid can erode the teeth enamel. The effects are heightened by the already acidic presence of vinegar and ketchup or canned tomato paste. With regular consumption, the dark color of most barbecue sauces can also stain your teeth.

Enjoying BBQ and Protecting Your Teeth

To spin an old proverb, you can have your barbecue and eat it too. To protect your teeth from the effects of barbecue sauce, drink water while eating, swishing it around your teeth a bit, and rinse with water after your meal.

Don’t brush immediately after eating sugary or acidic foods and drinks. This can further harm softened enamel. It’s best to flush the mouth with water, or chew some sugar-free gum, then wait an hour or two before brushing.

Teeth that are discolored from barbecue sauce and other dark foods and beverages can generally be restored with a professional teeth whitening treatment conducted by a knowledgeable dentist. Unlike over-the-counter teeth whiteners, dental teeth-brightening treatments such as Zoom! use a specialized gel to break down surface stains and provide uniform, natural-looking results.

Austin dentist Dr. Dan Matthews is dedicated to helping patients achieve and maintain bright, beautiful smiles for life. If you’re considering teeth whitening or another cosmetic dentistry treatment, please call our Bee Cave Road office at 512-452-2273 to schedule your consultation.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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