“We all know excellent nutrition helps build an excellent body,” says Paula Shannon Jones, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. “So it follows that whatever you eat affects your teeth and gums, too.”
And it’s not just the usual suspects like sugar that may be harmful. Some surprising — even healthy — foods can cause cavities, while others can help protect you from decay, gum disease, and even bad breath. Here's how to tailor your diet for optimal dental health:
Eat carbs at mealtimes
A handful of potato chips or even a wholewheat roll can be just as damaging to your teeth and gums as a chocolate chip cookie. All carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, which are ultimately converted by bacteria in the mouth into plaque, a sticky residue that is the primary cause of gum disease and cavities. Carb-based foods such as breads and crackers tend to have “a chewy, adhesive texture,” making it easier for them to get caught between teeth or under the gum line, where bacteria can then accumulate, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Have carbs at mealtimes rather than as a snack: When you eat a larger amount of food, you produce more saliva, which helps wash food particles away.
Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease. “Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause the odor,” explains Christine D. Wu, PhD, associate dean for research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, who has conducted several studies on tea and oral health. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it’s steeped in), which helps protect tooth enamel from decay.
Sip with a straw
Most sodas, sports drinks, and juices contain acids, such as citric and phosphoric, that can erode dental enamel — even if they’re diet or sugar-free versions. Sipping acidic drinks through a straw positioned toward the back of your mouth limits their contact with your teeth and helps preserve the enamel, says a study in the British Dental Journal.
Increase your C intake
“Vitamin C is the cement that holds all of your cells together, so just as it’s vital for your skin, it’s important for the health of your gum tissue,” says Jones. People who consumed less than 60 mg per day of C (8 ounces of orange juice or one orange contains more than 80 mg) were 25 percent more likely to have gum disease than people who took in 180 mg or more, according to a study of more than 12,000 U.S. adults conducted at the State University of New York University at Buffalo.
Eat 800 mg of calcium a day
People who do are less likely to develop severe gum disease, says a recent study by the Buffalo researchers. The reason: About 99 percent of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. Dietary calcium — available in foods like cheese, milk and yogurt — strengthens the alveolar bone in the jaw, which helps hold your teeth in place. The recommended amount is 1,000 mg per day for women younger than 50 and 1,200 mg for those older.
The power of cheese
Can’t brush or floss after having a soda or a sugary treat? Have a piece of Cheddar. Research shows that eating cheese can help reduce cavities, in part by neutralizing tooth-damaging acid.
Three surprising cavity fighters:
- Xylitol — this sweetener found in some sugarless gums has been shown in numerous studies to fight cavities.
- Cranberries and shiitake mushrooms — both contain chemicals that prevent bacteria from adhering to teeth.
- Crunchy veggies like celery or carrots — they’re abrasive enough to help scrape away food particles and plaque.
Information provided by “Prevention” magazine. For more stories on better health you can visit the “Prevention” Web site at: