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Your mouth is your body’s initial point of contact with the nutrients you consume. So what you put in your mouth impacts not only your general health but also that of your teeth and gums. In fact, if your nutrition is poor, the first signs often show up in your oral health.
Drinking community fluoridated tap water helps to prevent tooth decay and keep the teeth strong. Drinking milk or orange juice provides vitamin D which is also good for the teeth.
- Fruits and vegetables. Combined, these should cover half your plate at meals.
- Grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods most often.
- Protein. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Vary your protein choices to also include eggs, beans, peas and legumes. Eat at least eight ounces of seafood a week.
Certain foods naturally cleanse, brighten, and defend against bacteria that can harm your teeth and gums. To deliciously achieve a healthier smile, try these 10 foods:
- Pineapples can help whiten teeth. Research shows that the enzyme bromelain in pineapples acts as a natural stain remover. Bromelain helps break up plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on your teeth and produces acids that erode the enamel of your teeth and lead to dental caries.
- Ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory to support healthy mouth tissue. Since periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease that causes the loss of bone and supportive connective tissue in your mouth, ginger can spice up your foods while also acting as an anti-inflammatory. Carrots contain vitamin A, which is needed for healthy tooth enamel. Eating them raw stimulates saliva, your mouth’s natural cleanser. In fact, chewing any crunchy vegetable will naturally cleanse your teeth.
- Basil is a natural antibiotic that reduces bacteria in the mouth. Basil's essential oils, rosmarinic acid, linalool, and oleanolic acid inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
- Cheese is rich in protein, calcium, and phosphorus, all of which can help buffer the acids in your mouth. Calcium and phosphorus also assist in the remineralization or repairing of your teeth. Enjoy reduced-fat cheese to minimize heart-unhealthy saturated fat in your diet.
- Sesame seeds help “scrub” away the plaque on your teeth. Chewing nuts can also provide this coarse, scrubbing action. Sesame seeds also contain bone and teeth-strengthening calcium.
- Shitake mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which inhibits bacteria from growing in your mouth.
- Onions contain the sulfur compounds, thiosulfinates and thiosulfonates, which reduce bacteria that cause tooth decay. Eating them raw is a must as cooking will destroy these tooth-friendly compounds. Don’t like onions? Garlic also contains these sulfur compounds.
- Salmon not only provides calcium but also vitamin D, another nutrient needed for healthy bones and teeth.
- Broccoli contains iron which helps form an acid-resistant film or barrier that can protect the enamel of your teeth.
These days, there seem to be so many food choices -- It is important to know what is healthy and what is dangerous for your teeth. Whole foods which are not processed are the best option for everyone! Water, as opposed to soda, or sports drinks is a healthy choice. Many sports/energy drinks contain not only sugar, but citric acid which is a danger and breaks down healthy enamel. Stay away from sugary, sticky foods like candy and even dried fruit! Fresh fruit has lots of water and fiber which is better for you anyway! Xylitol is contained in some gum and mints. The benefit of Xylitol is it stops the growth of Strep Mutans -- the bacteria that causes decay!
All foods have a pH level and at certain times this can affect your teeth. Low-pH foods have high acid levels, and are known as acidifying, and higher-pH foods are alkalinizing or low in acid levels. The more acidifying your diet, the more loaded your mouth can get with harmful bacteria that can cause plaque and tooth decay. To strike the right balance, opt for a diet rich in alkalinizing foods, and limit your intake of acidic foods. I tell my patients to generally aim for a "75:25 ratio" in their diet (75% alkalinizing foods and 25% acidifying foods).
Here are some easy ways to adjust your diet:
- Stick to "smile-friendly" vegetables, such as beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes and green beans. Limit dishes prepared with potatoes, squash, and corn, which are known to be acidifying, and can contribute to increased bacteria in the mouth.
- Got a sweet-tooth? Reach for fresh fruit, such as apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, peaches, strawberries, even dark chocolate, which are all alkalinizing. Avoid canned or glazed fruits, which can be acidifying and also high in sugar, which can lead to plaque build-up.
- Eat almonds, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds, which are all healthy, alkalinizing nuts to enjoy. Limit your intake of cashews, peanuts, pecans and walnuts, as these nuts can be challenging for your teeth since they have high acid levels.
- Enjoy fresh and unsweetened fruit juices, regular and herbal teas, vegetable juices, and of course, plenty of water. Limit your alcohol intake and avoid soda, which is one of the biggest offenders today for tooth decay.
While it's no surprise that daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing are essential to tooth maintenance, did you know nutrition has an effect on your dental health, too?
- Calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, fortified soy and rice drinks, canned salmon, almonds, and dark green leafy vegetables, help promote strong teeth as well as bones.
- Phosphorus (found in eggs, fish and lean meat) and magnesium (found in spinach, bananas and whole grains) are good for tooth enamel.
And don't forget your gums. Vitamin C contains antioxidants to protect against cell damage and promote gum health.
For healthy teeth, you can't go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables. They are chock full of important vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system --and healthy teeth and gums -- and they're free of added sugar. Also be sure to consume enough dairy, since calcium is vital to keeping your teeth strong. Foods that are rich in dairy include low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Certain leafy greens like spinach, chard, celery and kale are also a good source of calcium as well as key vitamins such as vitamin C and B vitamins.
Limit your consumption of sticky, chewy foods such as raisins, as well as fruit and vegetable juices, which often are high in sugar.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.