Best (and Worst) Foods for Best Dental Health
Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential for healthy teeth and gums, but did you know that the kind of foods you eat can also help (or hurt) your oral health? Eating foods that are good for your teeth and being careful about those that are not is a key component to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Diet plays a very large role in the maintenance of our oral health and prevention of cavities. Changes can occur in your oral cavity as soon as you eat certain food or drinks. Bacteria in the mouth convert the sugars in the food we eat into acids.
The acids are what start to attack the enamel on teeth, beginning the decay process. The more often we eat and snack, the more frequently we are exposing our teeth to the cycle of decay. A tooth’s biggest nemesis is acid, either directly contained in the food and drink, or produced by bacteria that thrive on sugar and convert it to acid. The mouth’s best friends are foods that are able to neutralize the acids, providing minerals and vitamins to allow for repair of tooth enamel and stimulate salivary flow. How we eat is also just as important. In a recent study, researchers looked at more than 1,000 people (both male and female) between the ages of 18 and 30 for links between diet and tooth decay.
They found that eating high-acid foods (such as fruits and their juices) throughout the day can harm a person’s teeth if no effort is made to counteract the effects (i.e. brushing, rinsing, and flossing). Enamel is your teeth’s first defense against tooth decay. If the enamel on your teeth begins to erode or is damaged, you’re at an increased risk for tooth sensitivity and cavities. You can help strengthen your tooth enamel by eating foods high in calcium. Also, adding foods rich in vitamin D to your diet will allow you to better absorb the calcium that healthy teeth need.
Best Foods For Your Dental Health
1) Calcium. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products without added sugar such as milk, cheese, and plain yogurt are calcium staples that don’t add unhealthy saturated fat to your diet. Hard cheese in particular also helps neutralize the acids found in foods that threaten tooth enamel. Also, cheese helps stimulate salivary flow, while its calcium helps replace vitamins and minerals leached from the teeth. Other good sources of calcium are green leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy, and even Brussels sprouts, which deliver a healthy boost of vitamin C, too.
2) Vitamin D. Egg yolks, mushrooms, and most fish are excellent sources of the vitamin D you need to absorb calcium, which builds and maintains healthy teeth.
3) Vitamin C. Red peppers and sweet potatoes can provide the vitamin C necessary for healthy gums. Citrus fruits like oranges are also high in vitamin C, but you have to be careful of their acidity.
4) High-fiber foods. Work like a detergent in the mouth, not only physically scrubbing the teeth, but also increasing salivary flow by requiring longer chewing times. Saliva is the mouth’s first line of defense against tooth decay, because it neutralizes acids that can damage teeth, and contains calcium and phosphates that help rebuild minerals leached away by bacterial acids. Juicy fruits and vegetables (Apples, pears, celery, and carrots are all good choices) also have a high water concentration that helps counteract their sugar content. High-fiber foods also lay a good foundation to the building of an overall healthy diet, so they are doubly beneficial. However, even a healthy food like an apple can expose teeth to damaging acid when eaten slowly. To reduce the impact of acid, brush your teeth before eating and drink water or rinse immediately after.
5) Water. Water is indispensable when it comes to oral health. It’s the main component of saliva, and is important for both tooth and gum health. Water is valuable as the final rinsing agent for foods and sugary drinks. If the water is also fluoridated, it adds a secondary element in that it will strengthen the tooth enamel.
6) Xylitol. Sugar free gums of any kind can be very beneficial to dental health, because they stimulate salivary production and can help physically scrub your teeth while chewing. But those sweetened with xylitol (a type of sugar extracted from certain types of plants) can actually battle tooth decay. This occurs because xylitol works against mutans streptococci, the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Xylitol is available as a main ingredient for gums like Wrigley’s, Trident, or Epic brands.
7) Green and Black Teas. These contain poly phenols that interact with the bacteria that causes plaque. These poly phenols can kill or suppress bacteria, preventing them from growing or producing acid. The poly phenols in coffee also have cavity-fighting properties. Studies have also shown cocoa to have strong anti-mutans streptococci properties, although eating sugary chocolate bars is not very tooth friendly.
8) Nuts. Many nuts provide vitamins and minerals that help your teeth. These can include peanuts (vitamin D and calcium), almonds (high levels of calcium), cashews (increases salivary flow and helps clean teeth) and walnuts (fiber, folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc).
The Worst Foods for your Dental Health
1) Carbonated Sugary Soft Drinks. These types of drinks add so much sugar to our diets. The sugar content is bad for general body health as well as our teeth and gums. But teeth aren’t safe even for those who stick to diet drinks. Artificially sweetened soft drinks contain similar tooth eroding acids, such as phosphoric and citric. Even canned iced teas, which normally might be good for teeth, contain flavor-enhancing organic acids that can erode tooth enamel.
2) Sport and Health Drinks. Advertised health drinks are filled with dangers for your teeth. Sports drinks are acidic and full of sugar. And vitamin waters can contain as much sugar as a regular size candy bar. Chewable vitamins are especially bad, because they contain concentrated acids that tend to stick to and between teeth.
3) Sticky Sweets. It is certainly not news that caramels and other gummy, sugary sweets are bad for teeth. It’s not just the sugar itself, it is how long the teeth are exposed to that sugar. So while those caramels stick and cling tenaciously to tooth surfaces and crevices, hard candies and lollipops are also very bad. Ideally if you are to consume sugary sweets, you should brush and rinse right after eating them.
4) Dried fruits. Fresh grapes and plums are considered to be quite nutritious and good for you but if they are dried they are no longer considered as such. Although often advertised as healthy snacks, dried fruits like raisins, prunes and apricots, are very similar to caramels. Already sweet when fresh, their sugars are highly concentrated as the water is dried away, and their gummy texture can cling to teeth as much as gooey caramels. Even worse, the fruit is packed with non soluble cellulose fiber, which can bind and trap sugars on and around the tooth. This ends upm making it potentially worse than candies.
5) Carbohydrates. Many white starches, like white bread, white sugar, white rice, and French Fries can easily become lodged between teeth and in crevices of the teeth. These foods will not taste sweet on their own but the starches can begin converting to sugar very quickly. This occurs not only from the bacteria, but also by the by the enzymes in the saliva as part of the digestive process. Try brown rices and whole wheat pastas instead. these do not begin to break down until they get to your stomach.
6) Drinks and Foods High in Acid. Citrus fruits and drinks contain powerful citric acid. While oranges, lemons and grapefruit can be a healthy part of the diet, they should be consumed quickly, preferably as part of a meal, and the teeth should be rinsed well afterwards. Sucking on citrus fruits should be avoided. There is a common home remedy working its way around the internet using lemon wedges for at home DIY tooth whitening. This is not a smart remedy. It can be very difficult to give up a food that you desire, but you do not have to stop eating sugary and acidic foods altogether. Most dentists would agree that any food can cause plaque which in turn will make you more susceptible to decay. Maintaining proper oral hygiene is key.
Here are a few tips if you crave something sugary or acidic:
-Moderation is the key. Enjoy it but do not go overboard.
-Eat it with different kinds of foods to help neutralize the acid before it does damage to your teeth and gums.
-Drink water to rinse away bacteria and any food particles that remain in the mouth. It is also important to brush and rinse after eating. It is recommended though to wait 30 minutes to an hour after you have an acidic food or beverage because the acid weakens your tooth enamel, making your teeth more susceptible to damage from brushing. Another option is to chew a piece of sugar-free gum for 20 minutes to neutralize saliva and to reduce plaque buildup. Following these tips (along with regular dental visits) will help keep your teeth healthy for years to come.
Marielaina Perrone DDS