What You Eat Can Help Fortify and Brighten Your Smile
Think of the enamel on your teeth as a fortress and plaque like a marauding horde bent on their destruction. You can build up defenses in your mouth with healthy eating habits and use nutrition to fight off the corrosive attack of plaque. Small changes in your meals and snacks will yield big benefits for your teeth.
Enamel is the thin outer covering of the tooth. This tough shell is the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel covers the crown which is the part of the tooth that’s visible outside of the gums.
When you eat, the bacteria in plaque use the sugars in your food to produce acids that deteriorate tooth enamel. Repeated attacks cause the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in a cavity (or hole) in the tooth surface. If tartar (plaque that hardens after being left on teeth too long) collects then gingivitis, an early stage of gum (periodontal) disease can develop. Gingivitis is reversible with good oral hygiene and professional treatment, but one preventative step you can take every day is by giving a little extra attention to what you eat.
Chew On This
Calcium. Your teeth are made mostly of calcium, and without enough in your diet, you lower your resistance and increase your risk of developing tooth decay and other problems. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products add important minerals for oral health, but don’t add unhealthy saturated fat to your diet. Foods full of calcium include:
Snack Fact: Replacing that bag of chips at lunch with hard cheese will help neutralize the acids found in foods that threaten tooth enamel. Drink a glass of milk at meal times for another splash of healthy calcium.
Other good sources of calcium are green leafy vegetables which deliver a healthy boost of vitamin C, too.
Snack Fact: Eating a bowl of spinach or beans is a bit like running your teeth through a car wash: All that chewing generates saliva, and the food itself physically scrubs your teeth as it’s mashed up into little pieces.
Vitamin D. Foods with Vitamin D absorb calcium, which builds and maintains healthy teeth. These include:
Snack Fact: Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, a sugar that actually prevents mouth bacteria from creating plaque. Try adding four or five sliced shiitake mushrooms to soups and stir-fries.
Vitamin C. Foods full of vitamin C are 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. If you don’t get enough vitamin C, research shows that the collagen network in your mouth can break down making your gums tender and susceptible to periodontal disease.
Snack Fact: Strawberries may help whiten teeth because they contain an enzyme called malic acid, which can be found in some whitening toothpastes. You can mash up strawberries, add some baking soda and rub it on your teeth. Their fiber removes bacteria from your mouth and leaving the juice on your teeth for a minute before rinsing makes for a natural whitener.
Add Crunch When You Munch
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 fight bacteria in your mouth.
Snack Fact: Eating apples, celery and carrots stimulate saliva which neutralizes tooth damaging acids and contain calcium and phosphates that help rebuild minerals in your mouth. These foods are also high in vitamin C which prevents gum disease and kills odor causing bacteria. Fruits with high water content clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath.
Onions. Packed with powerful sulphur compounds, onions are serious bacteria killers.
Snack Fact: The prospect of munching on a raw onion doesn’t appeal to you? Try slicing them up and adding them to salads and sandwiches for a little crunch, less stink and a bacteria blaster.
Nuts. According to fossils, our Paleolithic ancestors had very strong teeth. Anthropologists suggest that this is partly due to the cleansing action of primitive foods like nuts and seeds which slough off plaque and help build enamel. Many nuts contain vitamins and minerals that help your teeth.
Peanuts (calcium and vitamin D)
Almonds (high levels of calcium)
Cashews (stimulate saliva)
Walnuts (fiber, folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc)
Snack Fact: If you’re watching a movie or a TV show and have a snack attack, try a small bowl of mixed nuts to sample the varieties and get all the healthy benefits.
Sesame Seeds. Best combined with bread and rolls, sesame seeds dissolve plaque and help build tooth enamel. They are also rich in calcium, which will keep your teeth and jawbone healthy.
Snack Fact: Sprinkle sesame seeds on salads and steamed vegetables a few times a week for a gentle teeth cleaning.
Drink To Your Health
Green Tea. Teas contain compounds called polyphenols that interact with plaque and suppress harmful bacteria, preventing them from producing tooth attacking acid. This not only helps to prevent cavities, but also reduces inflammation and the chances of gum disease. Green tea contains substances called catechins that kill the bacteria in your mouth that turn sugar into plaque. Catechins also wipe out the bacteria that causes bad breath.
Snack Fact: Make a thermos of green tea to take to work. The night before, steep 3 to 4 green tea bags in 4 cups of boiling-hot water in a covered thermos for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bags. Serve the tea the next day over ice or after reheating it.
Water. One thing we can’t live without and absolutely essential to healthy teeth is water. Like saliva, water helps wash sugars and acid off teeth. It also contains fluoride, a mineral that protects against tooth erosion and is found in toothpaste and some mouthwashes. Fluoride occurs naturally in water (including some bottled spring water), and most tap water in the United States is also fortified with it. Water helps to clear toxins in your body which can create tooth decay. It also keeps your gums very well hydrated and washes away all the minute left overs from the teeth.
Snack Fact: The best way to keep your teeth decay free is by drinking sufficient amount of water after every food intake.
Gumming Things Up
Sugarless Gum. Chewing sugarless gum after meals and snacks can help rinse harmful acid off your teeth to help you preserve enamel. It’s actually beneficial to your teeth as chewing helps dislodge food that becomes stuck to your teeth and also increases saliva flow to buffer mouth acids. Some gums contain ingredients that can reduce cavities as well as heal areas on the teeth where cavities are beginning. Many varieties of sugarless gum are sweetened with xylitol, an alcohol that reduces bacteria. On the flip side, gum with sugar increases your chances of developing a cavity.
Snack Fact: Chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after eating foods with high acid content helps deter the harmful effects.
You are what you eat and your diet directly affects the health of your teeth. Good choices can yield great results, but any food can be decay-causing if you don’t routinely practice good oral hygiene, get regular cleanings and additional dental care as needed.
Make sure to watch for the next posting on Bad Bites that can be harmful to your smile.
SOURCES: Everydayhealth.com, WebMD, Natural Health Magazine, Delta Dental, Health.com