Good oral hygiene is very important for optimal dental health. However, in large part, the foods we eat play a role in our oral health too. Each time you eat, you expose your pearly whites to foods that can degrade and break down your enamel or enrich and strengthen your teeth.
We consulted some dentists, read through dental journals and checked in with the tooth fairy to find out what foods were best for your dental health and which ones were the worst for your teeth. Read on to learn what to eat and what not to eat to keep your smile sparkling.
The Best Foods for Your Dental Health
There are plenty of delicious foods that we discovered were quite healthy for your teeth. Some foods clean your teeth while others build them up and make them stronger. Here’s a list of the best foods for your dental health.
Who knew that sweet and juicy strawberry was good for the teeth? A study featured in the Journal of Dentistry revealed that strawberries are one of the foods that contain the highest amount of polyphenols.
Scientists have deduced that polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants from plants, fight off the bacteria in the mouth that leads to gum disease and tooth decay. Polyphenols also delay the breakdown of starch inside the mouth. Delaying the starch breakdown is helpful because it reduces the amount of sugar that can get stuck to your teeth.
Although a few celebrities have promoted making a paste of strawberries and baking soda to whiten your teeth, we don’t recommend taking it that far. While the abrasive mixture will remove plaque buildup, it may also break down the enamel of your teeth. It’s best for your teeth if you enjoy these delicious berries as food.
We’ve heard it time and again, “Drink your milk for healthy teeth and bones.” But just how healthy is milk for your teeth? The National Institute for Health (NIH) says that 99 percent of your body’s calcium is stored in your teeth and bones. Taking in more calcium is essential to keeping your teeth strong.
In addition to the calcium in milk, researchers have found that if you drink milk after a sugary snack, the milk can help neutralize the acidic compounds in the sweets that cause tooth decay. So, it’s a terrific idea to enjoy a little milk after you’ve eaten dessert. Milk and cookies anyone?
Say cheese! A study out of the Academy of General Dentistry has linked cheese — made from cow’s milk — with better dental health. Researchers discovered that children who ate cheese had a rapid pH increase in their mouths, which neutralized acid that breaks down tooth enamel.
They also found that certain chemicals in the cheese form a barrier around the teeth that protects the teeth from acid. The research concludes that cheese has natural anticavity properties.
Eggs are a natural source of vitamin D, which helps your body process and use calcium. Eating eggs — both the white and the yolk together — will help you build and maintain strong bones and teeth.
Eggs also contain phosphorus, which is essential for adding hardness to bones and teeth. According to the experts at CurePages, our teeth and bones contain 80 percent of our body’s phosphorus. Enjoy eggs to build and maintain strong teeth.
According to research gained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a study including thousands of participants in the United States, people who consume more omega-3 fatty acids from fish have less incidence of periodontal disease. Those who ate at least one serving of fish each week had 22 percent less chance of developing periodontal disease than those who didn’t eat fish at all.
Mushrooms contain both calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is excellent for strengthening our teeth, and vitamin D helps our bodies use the calcium. Eat mushrooms cooked, rather than raw to get the most nutrients and avoid the negative digestive upset.
Celery requires lots of chewing, which allows the extra production of saliva in the mouth. That extra saliva reduces acids that harm tooth enamel and help clean the teeth. Celery also has plenty of fibrous, stringy things in it. Think of that as natural dental floss.
Dark Green Vegetables
Studies have shown that adding dark green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach to your diet can prevent periodontal disease and reduce cavities. You can make a very good dental health smoothie with spinach, celery, green grapes, and ice.
Xylitol Candies, Mints and Gum
Xylitol is one of the ingredients that’s in natural toothpaste to help fight cavities. Did you know that there are now lollipops you can buy that are sweetened with xylitol? These lollipops are good for your teeth. No kidding. Xylitol isn’t great in large amounts — it can cause bloating and gas. However, if you’ve got a hankering for hard candy, try one sweetened with xylitol if you want to indulge without getting cavities.
The Worst Foods for Your Dental Health
Just as there are foods that are excellent for your teeth, there are lots of foods that you can eat that will get you a stern reprimand from your dentist. We spoke to some dentists and came up with a list of the worst foods for your dental health.
Peanut brittle might be Grandma’s favorite dessert to make throughout the holidays, but it’s a dentist’s worst nightmare. One dentist warned that the sweet, sticky and crunchy confection can break your teeth, pull out a bridge or filling and leave behind plenty of sugar to cause cavities.
One of the dentists at 1st Family Dental in Illinois had this to say about hard candies, “Hard candies are a bit of a tough deal. Letting the candy melt in your mouth allows the sugars to sit on your teeth and gums for a longer period of time. Crunching on them can crack or even break teeth or dental work such as fillings and crowns. Sticky candies such as toffee can be very tough to remove once stuck on your teeth and can put unnecessary stress on teeth and dental work.”
I have personally broken a tooth while eating popped corn. The delicious, buttery, fluffy puffed corn is easy to munch on, but when you accidentally bite down on an unpopped kernel of corn, your tooth can crack or break easily.
Then, there’s the issue of popcorn hulls getting stuck beneath the gumline in your mouth. Once they are trapped, they can attract bacteria and plaque in the delicate area between your teeth and gums.
Even worse is caramel, kettle or candied popped corn. Eating that type is a double whammy for your dental health. Try to avoid popped corn when you can. If you eat it once in a while, be on the lookout for unpopped kernels and throw them out when you see them.
Citrus juices, particularly grapefruit and lemon juice, can be hard on your teeth. They are extremely acidic. The acids in the fruits and juice can break down the enamel of your teeth.
Although lemons and grapefruits are acidic, you don’t have to eliminate them from your diet to keep a healthy smile. If you are a fan of citrus juices, consider drinking them with a straw. Also, rinse your mouth with water right after you drink citrus juice. Then, wait at least 30 minutes before you brush your teeth to avoid scrubbing off your tooth enamel.
The dentists over at Dr. Dental, a well-respected northeast U.S. chain of dentist’s offices, posted this on their blog, “If an evil, anti-dentist madman — the next big movie villain perhaps — were to devise the perfect tooth-destroying substance, it would be hard to top carbonated soda. Soda fuels acid production in the mouth, which speeds plaque and cavity formation. It’s packed with sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup.”
All the dentists we spoke to agree that there’s nothing good about consuming soda when it comes to your dental health. We’ll take this a step further and say that there’s nothing good about drinking soda when it comes to your overall health. If you’re a soda drinker, you’ve got to stop. You’re not doing yourself any favors. Consider replacing your soda habit with unsweetened sparkling water.
It’s super tempting to crunch on ice cubes when you’re thirsty. However, doing so can wreck your teeth. When your teeth are cold, they’re naturally more brittle and prone to breaking. If you’re crunching down on the ice, you risk cracking or breaking your teeth.
Some experts correlate a craving for ice munching to an iron deficiency. Consider taking an iron supplement or eating foods high in iron if you feel especially drawn to crunching ice.
Take Good Care of Your Teeth
What you put in your mouth has everything to do with the health of your teeth and gums. Do your best to choose foods that are good for your dental health and avoid foods that can lead to cavities, gum disease, and poor oral health. Make your dentist proud and use this guide to help you decide what to eat and what not to eat for a healthy, happy smile.
Calcium and phosphorus for bones and teeth. (2009). Retrieved from: http://curepages.com/calcium-and-phosphorus-for-bones-and-teeth/
Dodington, D. (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids for periodontal health: an update. Retrieved from: https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-periodontal-health-an-update-david-w-dodington-bsc-hons-msc-peter-c-fritz/
Foods to eat foods to avoid: the diet’s role in dental health. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.mydrdental.com/foods-eat-foods-avoid-diets-role-dental-health/
How to wreck your smile in five easy steps. (2014). Retrieved from: https://blog.1stfamilydental.com/how-to-wreck-your-smile-in-5-easy-steps/
Is milk good for your teeth? (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/basics/nutrition-and-oral-health/is-milk-good-for-your-teeth-1215
Reilly, R. (2013). Forget gum: eating cheese can prevent tooth decay because it neutralizes acid in the mouth. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2336850/Forget-gum-Eating-CHEESE-prevent-tooth-decay-neutralises-acid-mouth.html