While ‘brushing twice and brushing right’ is an indispensable practice for maintaining good oral health and hygiene, your diet makes a big difference when it comes to a healthy smile. In fact, when it comes to the health of your teeth, you really are what you eat.
It is common knowledge that proper nutrition means eating a well-balanced diet and thereby providing the body with all the nutrients required for good health. But what we need to realize, is that Total Health & Oral Health are connected. A poor diet not only affects the body but also affects the mouth. According to the ADA, oral health is one of the first to deteriorate when your diet is less than ideal. To prevent cavities & maintain good oral health, what you eat & how often you eat, are important factors.
Changes in the mouth start the minute you eat food. Bacteria in the mouth convert sugars, carbohydrates & starches from food to acids that attack the tooth enamel, causing tooth decay. It’s not only ‘what you eat’, but also ‘when you eat’, that affects dental health. The more often you eat, the more frequently you expose your teeth to the cycle of decay. There are foods that contribute significantly to good oral health. These Dental Super Foods would not only benefit your mouth but your body too. Some of them are listed below:
Dairy Products (Cheese, Milk & Yogurt) – High in phosphate & calcium, they help neutralize the acids in the mouth, killing bacteria & preserving tooth enamel. They raise the ph of mouth, lowering the risk of tooth decay. They also contain proteins & nutrients that strengthen tooth enamel. It is thought that chewing cheese increases saliva formation. Probiotics found in yogurt (plain) also benefit gums as good bacteria crowd out bacteria that cause cavities.
Nuts & Seeds – Almonds are a good source of calcium & protein & are low in sugar & thus great for teeth. A quarter cup of almonds can be added as a between meal snack. Sesame Seeds are high in calcium. They preserve the bone around teeth & also help slough off plaque.
Vegetables & Greens (Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Pumpkin etc) – Leafy greens always top the healthy foods list. Full of vitamins & minerals, high in calcium, while being low in calories, they promote oral health. They also contain folic acid (vitamin b) that maintains healthy gums, especially beneficial for pregnant women. Chewing Celery or Carrots produces saliva, neutralizing the bad bacteria that cause cavities. Being a naturally abrasive food, it massages gums & cleans between teeth. Celery may be bland, watery & stringy, but like carrots & apples, acts like a toothbrush, scraping off food particles & bacteria away from teeth. It also contains anti-oxidant vitamins A&C, great for healthy gums. Topped with cheese, it can be made tastier. Carrots are crunchy & full of fiber. Eating a few raw carrots after the meal increases saliva in the mouth; this reduces the risk of cavities. They are also Vitamin A rich. Raw onions have powerful antibacterial sulphur compounds, making them terrific for oral health. Shiitake mushrooms contain naturally occurring active ingredients that make them anti-cariogenic, thus preventing cavity formation. Sweet potatoes, rich in vitamin A, also promote healing of gum tissue & are essential for tooth enamel formation.
Fruits – While the ADA recommends steering clear of most sweet foods, there are some exceptions. Apple & Pears might be sweet, but they’re also high in fiber & water. Chewing an apple increases saliva in the mouth that rinses away bacteria & food particles. Being fibrous, it also stimulates the gums. Snacking on apple or its slices can give the mouth a good scrubbing. Vitamin C is vital for gum health & Kiwis to contain the highest amount. Without Vitamin C, collagen in gums breaks down, making them tender & more susceptible to the bacteria causing bleeding gums & other diseases like pyorrhea. Unsweetened Cranberries contain polyphenols that keep plaque from sticking to teeth, thus lowering the risk of cavities.
Beverages – Since it has no calories or sugar, Water is the best pick. It not only keeps the gums hydrated while stimulating saliva – the best defense against bacteria, it’s as effective as mouthwash at swishing away stuck food from teeth. Both Black & Green Teas contain polyphenols, which slows bacterial growth associated with cavities & gum disease. They also help with bad breath. Green tea contains catechins that kill plaque-causing bacteria.
Sugar Substitutes (Sorbitol, Mannitol, Saccharin, Advantame, Aspartame, Sucralose etc.) are available that look & taste like sugar, but are not digested the same way. Hence, they don’t feed the bacteria in the mouth & therefore don’t produce acids.
Sugarless or Sugar-Free Food means foods that do not contain sugar. However, this does not mean such foods do not contain other natural sweeteners like Honey, Molasses, Evaporated Cane Sugar, Fructose, Barley Malt, which can be just as harmful to the teeth. To determine if the sugarless or sugar-free foods contain natural sweeteners, examine the ingredients label.
Sugarless Chewing Gum is to a certain extent, beneficial, as the process of chewing helps dislodge food that becomes stuck to the teeth. Also, it increases saliva flow that neutralizes the acids. Chewing gum can be a problem if one has jaw pain or other jaw-related problems.
So, the best food choices for a healthy mouth that protect tooth enamel are dairy products, calcium-rich green vegetables, crunchy & firm fruits & vegetables, fibrous foods & foods with high water content.
Foods to avoid include Acidic & Sugar Rich Drinks & Eatables like Candies (Lollipops, Toffees & Mints), Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Breads, Muffins, Potato Chips, Pretzels, French Fries, Bananas, Raisins, Indian Sweets, Cough Syrups & Other Dried Fruits. These contain large amounts of sugar that stick to teeth, providing a nidus for bacteria to grow & cause acidic decay of teeth, eventually leading to gum disease. Sugar-laden drinks like Soft Drinks, Lemonade, Sugary Coffee/Tea should be avoided so also day-long sipping of Sugary Drinks, as they expose teeth to constant sugar. Intake of Acidic Foods (Citrus Fruits, Tomatoes, Lemons) should also be reduced.
Diet should be full of fresh produce, nuts & seeds, legumes, lean meats & whole grains. They contribute to a more alkaline state in the mouth as well as the body which prevents bacterial build up & inflammation. Almost all foods contain some type of sugar. However, these are necessary for a healthy diet as many of them also contain important nutrients. As it’s not possible to eliminate these ‘avoidable foods’ from one’s diet, it’s recommended that these be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acid from them. ‘Brushing twice (after breakfast and before bed) and Brushing right’ nevertheless, will always need to be followed when it comes to your oral health & hygiene.
So, for healthy teeth and gums (and for a healthy living), Read & Think before you Buy & Consume.
Eat right, brush twice (after breakfast and before bed) and brush right.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
By Dr. Rimjhim Bhatnagar
Dental Specialist at D-Care