You know that proper dental care – including daily brushing and flossing, plus twice-yearly trips to the dentist – is vital for maintaining the health of your teeth. But did you know that your diet also plays a big part?
There are certain foods that can help keep those pearly whites strong and healthy throughout your life, and they may not be what you think. Turns out, some of your favorite indulgences may actually be helping to keep your mouth clean and fresh.
Cheese is not the diet-killing food it is made out to be, though moderation is still important. But if anyone gives you flak for enjoying it, tell them that you are taking care of your teeth. The American Academy of General Dentistry agrees that eating cheese alters the pH of your mouth in a way that protects against tooth decay!
As a bonus, cheese is high in protein and calcium, both nutrients that are known to strengthen tooth enamel. Plus, any food that gets the saliva flowing helps to wash away the bacteria that might otherwise contribute to plaque.
Some of us can’t imagine starting our day with a cup or two of hot tea, but may worry that the stuff is likely to stain our teeth. Actually, black and green teas contain compounds called polyphenols that slow the growth of the bad bacteria that can cause both cavities and gum disease. Researchers think that these polyphenols also prevent bacteria from clumping together to form deposits.
In one study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, people who rinsed their mouths with black tea for one minute, 10 times per day, had significantly less plaque buildup than the control group. That’s a lot of times to rinse, but rest assured that whenever you do drink tea, you’ll be improving your oral health and fighting bad breath at the same time.
Almonds are a great snack for many reasons, and you can add tooth protection to the list. These tasty nuts are high in calcium and protein, like cheese, but have the added benefit of crunch. Chewing crunchy foods naturally scrapes away plaque buildup and discourages more from forming.
Nuts are low in sugar (a tooth-killer) but relatively high in fat. It’s best to eat them sparingly each day by adding a quarter cup to your salad or stir fry, or enjoying them on their own as a snack.
Yogurt is yet another food that’s high in calcium and protein, but it also contains good bacteria called probiotics. These beneficial bacteria improve gum health by limiting the space available for the bad, cavity-causing bacteria. Less bad bacteria translates into better breath, as well.
One caveat when it comes to yogurt is that many varieties contain a lot of sugar. To improve oral health by eating more yogurt, be sure to choose plain or low-sugar varieties.
Sugar is generally considered devastating for the teeth, but if you’re craving a sweet treat, you can eat an apple with no guilt. They do contain a fair amount of sugar, but because they are crunchy, eating them can serve as a natural toothbrush.
Apples also contain lots of fiber and water, both of which are beneficial for oral health. The water joins with saliva created as you chew to rinse away oral invaders. The fiber stimulates the gums, improving blood flow and keeping them healthier.
While eating an apple isn’t quite as good as brushing your teeth, saving them to the end of your meal can freshen breath.
6. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are another food that benefits your body inside and out. They are low calorie yet packed with vitamins and minerals. Dark greens like spinach and kale also contain a good amount of calcium – good news for the lactose intolerant who can’t comfortably consume dairy products.
Most greens are high in folic acid. This is a B vitamin that is critical for women during pregnancy, and some evidence suggests that it can even help treat gum disease in pregnant women. For anyone, though, folic acid (or folate) is thought to reduce inflammation in the gums and help prevent tooth decay.
While this is not an exhaustive list of tooth-friendly foods, you can use it as a guideline to make the best dietary choices for your oral health. Stick to fruits for your sugar craving. Calcium-rich foods help keep the enamel strong, so dairy products and dark leafy greens are always good. Anything crunchy can serve as a natural toothbrush, but it’s obviously better to choose carrots or celery over potato chips.
It may go without saying, but be sure drink lots of water as well. Not only does water help rinse away bacteria, it also freshens breath. And finally, chewing sugar-free gum is another habit than can clean your teeth and banish the dreaded halitosis.