Cleaning your teeth is essential for healthy teeth, but did you know that the kind of foods you eat can also help — or hinder — your dental health? Eating foods that are good for your teeth and being cautious about those that aren’t is key to having a healthy smile.
Food is not just sustenance, not just fuel and certainly not just a diversion. Food nurtures and heals. So the type of food you eat affects your health and wellbeing. The right foods help you feel energetic, sleep better and prevent sickness. Generally, good nutrition is beneficial for oral health as well as total health. Fill your diet with fresh produce, nuts & seeds, legumes, lean meats and whole grains. These contribute to a more alkaline state in the body, which defends against bacteria and inflammation. Avoid food with artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners, food coloring, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, refined flour and partially hydrogenated oils. These contribute to a more acidic state in the body, which increases bacteria and creates inflammation.
This list of 10 superfoods for great oral health will benefit your mouth. But they’re also good for the rest of you!
- Kiwi. Most fruits contain Vitamin C, which is vital for the health of your gum tissue, but kiwis contain the highest amount. Without Vitamin C, the collagen in your gums breaks down, the gums become tender and more susceptible to the bacteria causing periodontal disease.
- Cheese. High in phosphate and calcium, cheese helps balance the pH in the mouth, killing bacteria and preserving tooth enamel. This prevents cavities and gum disease.
- Celery. As a crunchy vegetable made mainly of water, chewing celery produces saliva, neutralizing the bacteria Streptococcus mutans that causes cavities. It’s also a naturally abrasive food that massages gums and cleans between teeth.
- Green Tea. Enjoyed for centuries in Asia, green tea contains catechins that kill the bacteria leading to plaque while preventing gum disease and cavities. It also inhibits the growth of bacteria leading to bad breath.
- Sesame Seeds. High in calcium, sesame seeds preserve the bone around the teeth & gums. They also help slough off plaque while helping build tooth enamel.
- Onions. Onions have powerful antibacterial sulfur compounds, making them terrific for oral health. They are strongest when eaten fresh and uncooked.
- Shiitake Mushrooms. These mushrooms contain lentinan, a naturally occurring sugar that prevents mouth bacteria from forming plaque.
- Raisins. Sweet and tasty, raisins contain phytochemicals like oleanolic acid that inhibit two species of oral bacteria to prevent cavities and gum disease.
- Sweet Potatoes. Along with carrots, pumpkin and broccoli, sweet potatoes have high amounts of Vitamin A, which is essential for tooth enamel formation and promotes healing of gum tissue.
- Water. Water is as effective as mouthwash at swishing away stuck particles and residue from teeth. It also keeps your gums hydrated while stimulating saliva – the best defense against bacteria.
Eating calcium-rich dairy products and avoiding sugary foods like candy can help keep your teeth healthy. But even some good-for-you foods can damage your teeth.
The best choices for healthy teeth are foods with:
- Calcium. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products 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. 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.
- 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.
- Vitamin C. Red peppers and sweet potatoes can provide the vitamin C necessary for healthy gums, which help keep your teeth firmly in place. Citrus fruits like oranges are also high in vitamin C, but you have to be careful of their acidity.
- A healthy crunch. The crisp texture of crunchy fruits and vegetables can help wipe away plaque-causing bacteria on your teeth. They can also increase the production of saliva, which helps neutralize bacteria in your mouth. Apples, pears, celery, and carrots are all good choices. 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.
Bad Foods for Your Teeth
After you eat, plaque — the sticky film of bacteria that covers your teeth — release acids that break down the enamel on your teeth. Foods that are high in acid can cause your tooth enamel to erode the most, so these foods should be eaten in moderation to minimize damage to your teeth.
Foods that aren’t good for your teeth include:
- Hard or sticky candy. When you suck on hard candies, the candy is left in your mouth for a long time, which means extended exposure to sugar and damaging acid. Sticky candies are also a problem because the sugar sticks to your teeth.
- Carbohydrates. Foods such as white breads, pastas, and potato chips are processed as sugar when digested. And food particles from these carbs tend to linger by sticking in the grooves of teeth, creating a breeding ground for acid.
- Soda and fruit juices. Be especially cautious of sipping them over a lengthy period of time, which promotes prolonged exposure to sugar and acid.
- Too much citrus. Oranges, kiwis, lemons, and grapefruit are great sources of vitamin C for healthy gums, but they’re also high in enamel-damaging acid. Enjoy these foods in moderation to minimize their impact on your teeth.
- Hard foods. Peanut brittle, hard pretzels, and ice may offer a satisfying crunch, but they also carry the risk of damage to your teeth. Munching on hard food creates extra pressure and friction that can chip or crack teeth.
- Foods that leave stains. Coffee, tea, and red wine are notorious stain-makers. While tooth stains aren’t harmful, they can become difficult to remove if these foods are consumed in excess. Brushing too hard or using harsh products to remove these stains can damage your teeth and gums.