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While good oral hygiene is critical for keeping our teeth healthy and clean, it isn’t the only factor at play. By eating the right foods – and avoiding the wrong ones – you can ward off cavities and reduce your risk of gum disease. Before you make out your next grocery list, learn how to choose the best foods for promoting healthy teeth and gums.
How Can Food Promote Better Dental Health?
Like every other part of your body, your teeth and gums require proper nutrition to function at their best. This means getting enough of the right kinds of minerals, which serve as building blocks for your teeth and its protective enamel. At the same time, certain foods also contain natural chemical compounds, which can inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria. Some foods also stimulate your salivary glands, which can wash away sugar and bacteria.
What Foods Keep Your Teeth Healthy?
There are a number of foods that can preserve your dental health in a variety of different ways. Some of the most effective options include:
Rich in calcium, yogurt can help strengthen the protective enamel on your teeth. According to recent studies, it could also help alleviate bad breath by reducing odor-causing compounds, such as hydrogen sulfide, inside the mouth. Researchers say this is mostly due to the Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus and other beneficial bacteria within yogurt. Just make sure to choose yogurt that doesn’t contain a lot of added sugar.
Because they are crunchy, apples tend to increase saliva, which helps to ward off cavities by rinsing the mouth. Celery and carrots are also good options, especially when you need a healthy snack while you’re on the go.
It’s usually best to avoid sticky foods that can easily get between your teeth. That said, researchers now believe certain types of sticky foods could actually help to prevent cavities. According to a study out of Chicago College of Dentistry, raisins contain powerful phytochemicals that appear to fight off the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. Cranberries and dried plums also appear to have a similar impact, as long as you brush your teeth shortly after eating.
Long associated with improved overall health, whole grains have recently been linked to better periodontal health as well. According to a study out of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, whole-grain foods, such as oats, barley, bran, and brown rice, may indirectly improve oral health by improving the body’s ability to process blood sugar.
This tasty spice contains natural plant oils called cinnamic aldehyde, which have been shown to kill oral bacteria.
Many sugarless chewing gums contain the sugar alcohol xylitol, which could help prevent tooth decay by stalling the growth of harmful oral bacteria. Sugarless gum can also temporarily mask bad breath.
Known for preventing bladder infections, cranberries contain natural compounds that make it hard for bacteria to cling to surfaces. According to a study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center, this same trait makes the little red berries a promising weapon against cavities. Researchers found that cranberry juice disrupts the formation of glucan, which acts as a building block for plaque. That said, you should still brush your teeth shortly after eating cranberries since they are relatively high in sugar and acid.
In addition to providing your mouth with that fresh, clean feeling, mint can also kill the bacteria that cause bad breath.
It may seem counterintuitive to associate foul-smelling onions with good oral health; however, these pungent vegetables contain microbial properties that harm common types of bacteria, which cause cavities and gum disease.
When it comes to choosing food for healthy teeth and gums, it’s hard to beat leafy green vegetables. Much like whole grains, leafy greens help lower blood sugar. They also contain phytochemicals that can help fight off bacteria. Many leafy greens also promote increased chewing action, which boosts the production of saliva. Leafy greens are also rich in minerals and contain little to no sugar.
Studies suggest that these edible mushrooms from East Asia can prevent cavities and gum disease due to several biologically active compounds, including carvacrol, adenosine, copalic acid and erythritol.
Milk and Cheese
In addition to providing calcium which can strengthen teeth and bones, milk and cheese also contain a protein called casein, which can neutralize oral acids produced by bacteria in the mouth.
High in calcium and low in sugar, almonds have also been shown to lower blood sugar while increasing the production of saliva. Just be sure to choose the sliced variety, or you could actually chip or fracture your teeth while vigorously chomping away.
Water is one of the few drinks that are actually good for your teeth. Since fluoridated drinking water strengthens teeth, it’s a great way to improve your dental health. It’s also a smart way to replace sugary beverages, such as colas and sports drinks, which can drastically increase your risk of cavities.
Foods to Avoid for Healthy Teeth
In addition to eating healthy foods, you should avoid or limit specific types of foods that can harm your teeth and gums. According to the ADA, this includes:
- Candy: lollipops, taffy, mints and caramel
- Sugary beverages: soda, sports drinks, juice, lemonade and sweetened tea or coffee
- Flaky foods: Crackers and chips tend to stick between teeth.
- Sticky, dehydrated fruit: Sticky fruits can lead to cavities; opt for fresh fruit instead.
- Citrus fruits: Because they are acidic, these should only be eaten as part of a meal and not by themselves.
Can Healthy Foods Prevent Cavities
Crunchy, fibrous vegetables can help prevent cavities by scrubbing away plaque as you chew. Foods that promote saliva production can also help eliminate plaque and prevent bacteria from proliferating. With that said, even the healthiest diets won’t necessarily keep you from getting a cavity. This is why it’s so important to schedule regular checkups at your local Gentle Dental office.
Do I Need to Brush After Eating Healthy Foods?
Without regular brushing, even the healthiest foods can promote plaque. That’s why it’s so important to brush your teeth after eating, even if you’ve consumed any of the above foods.
You should also know that researchers have linked unhealthy diets to several oral diseases, including certain forms of oral cancer. With this in mind, you should strongly consider filling your plate with fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods that contain high amounts of sugar.
If you have any questions, please speak to your local dentist and they’ll be happy to assist!