Tooth-friendly foods—do they exist?
We’re bombarded with facts and opinions about what we should and shouldn’t eat to stay healthy, happy, shapely and sharp. But what about foods that are healthy for our teeth and gums? Do they exist and how do they help?
Well, the good news is yes. While some foods invite cavities, others fight them. Making some simple dietary choices can help keep your teeth happy and healthy.
Here’s the lowdown on super-good foods to support healthy teeth and gums. Yes, they taste good. Yes, you probably eat some of them already. And yes, they’re definitely dentist-approved, so help yourself.
Dairy – strengthens and protects tooth enamel
Milk, yoghurt and cheese contain calcium and phosphorus. These are essential minerals for strong enamel. They also contain a protein called casein. Casein, in cahoots with calcium and phosphorus in your saliva, puts a protective film over teeth enamel, decreasing the risk of cavities and decay. Curious about how this chemical reaction protects teeth? Check out this article from The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice.
Following a sugary treat or drink with a sliver of cheese helps neutralise the acid pH of your mouth and stimulate saliva production. These are two of your mouth’s natural defences against tooth decay.
Unflavoured milk is low in sugar. Drinking a small daily glass is good for your teeth. And cheese and yoghurt make perfect between-meal snacks. Following a sugary treat or drink with a sliver of cheese helps neutralise the acid pH of your mouth and stimulate saliva production. These are two of your mouth’s natural defences against tooth decay.
There’s even some suggestion that drinking milk and eating cheese to reduce the effects of acids in the mouth can restore enamel.
Water – cleans and hydrates
Unflavoured water (sorry to burst your flavoured water bubble) helps keep teeth and gums healthy.
Like the rest of you, your mouth needs to be hydrated to keep healthy. A hydrated mouth stimulates saliva production which neutralises acids. Saliva is 99% water and plays an essential role by diluting and eliminating sugars. It also cleans your mouth by washing away food debris from your teeth and gums. A clean mouth leaves little for cavity-causing bacteria to feed on.
Now let’s talk, ‘antimicrobial action.’ Antimicrobial action is medi-speak for stopping (or slowing) the growth of bacteria. Saliva is your mouth’s antimicrobial action superhero. It protects teeth from cavities by:
- balancing demineralisation/remineralisation (putting essential minerals back into your teeth)
- acting as a buffer against plaque acid
- helping protect the enamel.
And finally, a word or two about flouride. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) found that water fluoridation can prevent tooth decay by 26%-44% in children and adolescents and about 27% in adults. In short, drinking fluoridated water reduces damage and helps repair teeth.
So when it comes to helping oral health, water is the best of all beverages.
Crunchy fruit and vegetables – vitamin-packed plaque-scrubbers
Crisp and crunchy fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, apples, pears and celery help clean plaque off your teeth. Besides being plaque-fighters, antioxidants and vitamins (take a bow Vitamin C) in crunchy fruit and veg protect gums from cell damage and bacterial infection. Also, because these foods are crunchy, they require more chewing. The more you chew, the more acid-neutralising saliva gets made in your mouth.
However, there’s a catch with crunchy fruit and veg. Timing is (almost) everything.
Maximise the tooth and gum cleaning benefits by crunching your celery sticks and munching your apple at the end of a meal or after you’ve eaten snack foods. Be aware that crunchy fruit and veg contain a certain level of acid, so don’t snack on them all day and don’t substitute them for brushing and flossing.
Leafy Greens – good all-round mouth protectors
Lettuce, kale, spinach, cabbage, and asparagus—all are low in natural sugar and packed with vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorus. These dead-set superfoods do a fine job of supporting tooth and gum health. Like crisp and crunchy vegetables, leafy greens help clean your teeth and stimulate saliva production to protect your enamel.
Leafy greens also contain folic acid, a proven protector against periodontal disease. Folic acid supports the cells that make up the gums. A deficiency decreases your gum’s resistance to infection. Unfortunately, folic acid deficiency is the most common deficiency world-wide.
So, if you only change one thing after reading this article, make it ‘eating your leafy greens.’
High Vitamin C foods – great for gums
Vitamin C is the most frequently name-dropped health booster when you’re battling a cold. But it’s also great for your oral health.
Vitamin C protects your gums in much the same way that it protects the rest of you—by supporting your immune system. However, you don’t need to consume excessive amounts to gain the benefits. Aim for a daily serving of:
- fresh orange (ideally not a sugary juice)
- a handful of chopped red pepper
- a cup of strawberries
- steamed broccoli.
Any one of these will provide an adequate daily amount. (You will need a little more if pregnant, or post-surgery.)
Keep in mind…
Citrus fruits, such as oranges and mandarins, are acidic. Consume these mindfully. Drink a glass of water afterwards or eat a piece of cheese. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juice, which often have high concentrations of natural (and sometimes added) sugars.
Dark chocolate – defence against early gum disease
Ever heard a dentist tell you to eat chocolate? Well, you’re about to. But not just any chocolate, only the dark, do-you-good sort.
Dark chocolate can slow tooth decay and early gum disease by reducing inflammation and stopping bacteria from turning into tooth-damaging acids.
Sugar-rich milk and white chocolate are bad for teeth. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is a better choice.
Made mostly of cocoa, it’s less sugar-laden than milk and white chocolate. It also contains flavonoids and antioxidants. These slow tooth decay and early gum disease by reducing inflammation and stopping bacteria from producing tooth-damaging acids.
Unlike made-to-suck lollies, designed to last for minutes (or hours if you’re a particularly canny kid), dark chocolate dissolves quickly in your mouth. This means sugar isn’t lurking in the mouth for ages, doing damage to your teeth.
Green Tea – Tooth-protecting superhero
Green tea should wear a cape emblazoned with ‘tooth superhero.’ There’s plenty of evidence for the link between drinking green tea and oral health.
High in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, green tea and its polyphenols can help protect against periodontal and oral diseases, such as gingivitis. However, as with most things in life, too much is…. well… too much. Find the right balance, as we explain here.
Eating and drinking well but still getting cavities?
What if you’re doing a lot of this already and still find your dentist telling you that you have a cavity?
If you’re doing your best to avoid sugary foods and drinks, one of these 5 things could be causing cavities.
● Overbrushing, either too often or too firmly, will take its toll on teeth.
● Snacking throughout the day so your teeth never get a break from harmful bacteria.
● Being born into a family that’s prone to having weak teeth can increase your cavity risk.
● Vomiting, either through illness or eating disorders, increases acid in the mouth.
● Having a dry mouth due to not drinking enough fluid or taking medication will have an impact.
Have questions about your current cavities or how to prevent new ones? Ask your dentist. They can suggest and discuss lifestyle changes which may improve your oral health.
A balanced and healthy diet can play an important part in looking after your teeth and gums. But it doesn’t replace the need for good dental hygiene. No matter how many tooth superfoods you eat, establishing a good brushing routine is vital.