When it comes to dental health, what people eat and drink – and how they consume it – has a powerful impact on their teeth. And on the list of good and bad foods, there may be some surprises.
According to San Antonio cosmetic dentist Dr John Moore, regular tooth brushing and flossing are only part of a tooth-healthy lifestyle.
When it comes to dental health, what people eat and drink – and how they consume it – has a powerful impact on their teeth.
And on the list of good and bad foods, there may be some surprises.
Dr Moore says: ‘The old adage You are what you eat is especially true for your teeth.’
A tooth’s worst enemy, he says, is acid – either directly contained in the food and drink, or produced by bacteria that thrive on sugar and convert it to acid. The mouth’s best friends are foods that neutralise acids, provide minerals and vitamins to repair tooth enamel and stimulate saliva.
Dr Moore offers the following lists of best and worst foods and drink for teeth:
The Top 7 Best Foods and Drinks
1 High fibre fruits and vegetables
High-fibre foods work like a detergent in the mouth, not only physically ‘scrubbing’ the teeth, but also stimulating saliva flow by requiring longer chewing times.
Saliva is the mouth’s first line of defense, because it neutralises tooth-damaging acids, and contains calcium and phosphates that help rebuild minerals leached away by bacterial acids. Crunchy, juicy fruits and vegetables also have high water content that helps offset their sugar content. High-fibre foods are also a key foundation of an overall healthy diet, so they offer a double benefit.
When it comes to oral health, water is indispensable. It’s the primary component of saliva, and is important to both tooth and gum health. Water is valuable as the final rinsing agent for foods and sugary drinks, and, if fluoridated, works to prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth enamel.
3 Dairy products
Dairy products without added sugar help teeth in a number of ways. Cheese helps stimulate saliva, while its calcium helps replace minerals leached from the teeth. Other dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and similar products also provide calcium and phosphates; enriched milk also provides vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium.
Sugarless gums of any kind can help boost dental health, because they stimulate saliva production and can help ‘scrub’ teeth. But those sweetened with xylitol – a type of sugar extracted from a variety of plants – can actually battle tooth decay, because xylitol works against mutans streptococci, the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Xylitol is available as a general sweetener at health stores.
5 A hot cup of cavity-fighter
Green and black teas contain compounds called polyphenols that interact with the bacteria that causes plaque. These polyphenols either kill or suppress bacteria, preventing them from growing or producing tooth-attacking acid. The polyphenols in coffee also have cavity-fighting properties. Studies have also shown cocoa to have strong anti-mutans streptococci properties, although chomping sugary chocolate bars isn’t tooth-friendly.
6 Go nuts
Many nuts provide vitamins and minerals that help your teeth. These include peanuts (calcium and vitamin D), almonds (high levels of calcium that helps both teeth and gums), cashews (stimulates saliva and helps clean teeth) and walnuts (fiber, folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc).
7 Mining for minerals
Foods that provide vitamins A, C and D as well as calcium and phosphorus, are especially good for the teeth. These foods can be part of an overall healthy diet, as well. These include beef, eggs, fish, potatoes, spinach, fortified cereals, tofu, leafy green vegetables, beans, whole grains and poultry.
Top 7 Worst Foods and Drinks for Teeth
1 Carbonated beverages and other drinks
Soft drinks are a perennial target of nutrition police, because they add so much sugar to the national diet. The sugar content – as much as a king-sized candy bar – is bad for both body and teeth. But teeth aren’t safe even for those who stick to diet drinks! Like their sugar-loaded versions, artificially sweetened soft drinks contain tooth-eroding acids, such as phosphoric and citric. Even canned iced teas, which normally might be good for teeth, contain flavor-enhancing organic acids that can erode tooth enamel.
2 Not-so-healthy vitamins
Even so-called health drinks are brimming with danger for your teeth. Sports drinks are notoriously acidic and full of sugar. And vitamin waters can contain as much sugar as a candy bar. Chewable vitamins – from multivitamins to large chewable vitamin C tablets – are especially bad, because they contain a concentrated acid that tends to cling to and between teeth.
3 Mouth-drying consumables
Whether it’s last night’s margaritas that are leaving one cotton-mouthed, or one of the medications that affect salivation, a dry mouth is danger to teeth and gums. Psychiatric medications, Dr Moore says, are among the worst culprits in causing dry mouth. One must to take extra care to keep the mouth hydrated, from deliberately washing with water or fluoridated rinses, to mouth hydration solutions.
4 Long-lasting and sticky sweets
It’s not news that caramels and other gooey, sugary sweets are bad for teeth. It’s not just the sugar, though; it’s how long the teeth are exposed to sugar. So while those caramels stick and cling tenaciously to tooth surfaces and crevices, hard candies and lollipops are also very bad; they’re designed for a long, leisurely suck.
This principle applies to any sweets, from candy to sweet drinks – sugar should stay in the mouth as briefly as possible.
5 Dried fruits
While fresh grapes and plums are considered ‘good’ foods, if they are dried, they go from hero to villain. Although often touted as healthy snacks, dried fruits like raisins, prunes and apricots, are similar to caramels.
Already sweet when fresh, their sugars are highly concentrated as the water is dried away, and their gummy texture can cling to teeth as much as gooey candy. And worse, the fruit is packed with non-soluble cellulose fiber, which can bind and trap sugars on and around the tooth, making it worse than sweets.
6 Starchy foods
Many starchy foods, including white bread, potato chips and French fries and al dente pasta, can easily become lodged between teeth and in crevices.
While they may not necessarily taste sweet, the starches can begin converting to sugar almost immediately, not only by the bacteria, but also by the pre-digestive process that begins in the mouth through the enzymes in saliva.
7 High-acid foods and drinks
Citrus fruits and drinks contain powerful citric acid – in fact, such juice is often used as a cleaning agent. While oranges, lemons and grapefruit can be a healthy part of the diet, they should be consumed quickly, preferably as part of a meal, and the teeth should be rinsed afterward. Sucking on citrus fruits should be avoided; this especially applies to the home remedy practise sucking lemon wedges for tooth-whitening.
Some tooth-healthy dos and don’ts
Crunching ice and popcorn
Teeth are tough and made to last a lifetime eating a normal diet, but they do have a breaking point. Ice is tough – tough enough that glaciers carve mountains and an iceberg could peel open the Titanic. Chewing ice is a common habit; but even if this doesn’t cause a major break, it can lead to a network of tiny cracks that can develop serious problems as time goes on. Popcorn has its own dental danger, from husks that can easily become wedged between teeth to uncooked kernels that can damage teeth.
Use a straw/don’t swish
The impact of sweet and/or acidic drinks can be cushioned by getting into the habit of drinking through a straw aimed toward the back of the mouth. Swishing a drink through the teeth, however, intensifies the effect of both sugars and acids.
Use water as a mouthwash
Water makes the perfect rinse to clear sugars and acids after eating or drinking.
Be careful brushing
Brushing is recommended after every meal. However there’s an exception; if one has just eaten or drunk an acidic food or beverage, they should rinse with plain water to clear the mouth, and then wait at least a half-hour before brushing. After the acid bath, tooth enamel is more vulnerable to damage. Waiting a while gives saliva a chance to remineralise the teeth so the brushing doesn’t worsen damage.
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