Everything you eat comes into contact with your teeth and gums. Therefore, the foods that you eat impact your dental health not just because of their nutrient contents, but also based on their physical qualities, such as texture and sugar content. Oral bacteria feed on sugar, leading to tooth decay, so eating sticky and sugary foods tends to increase your risk of developing cavities. On the other hand, certain foods are not only nutritionally sound, but also good at scrubbing away oral bacteria from the surface of your teeth.
Here's a look at some foods to include in your diet for healthier teeth and gums, as well as a few treats you're better off avoiding.
Foods to Include:
Low-fat, low-sugar dairy is a great choice because it's high in calcium, which your body needs to keep your tooth enamel hard and strong. Make sure you choose dairy products that are low in sugar; since they're liquid, they come into close contact with your teeth, and sugary ones may increase your risk of tooth decay. Low-fat cheese, plain yogurt and skim milk are good choices.
Crunchy fruits and veggies are a much better choice than sticky fruits or fruit juices, since their crunchy texture helps scrub plaque off of your teeth. Try eating apples, carrots or celery at the end of a meal if you don't have your toothbrush near by for an after-meal brushing.
Onions contain natural antimicrobial compounds that help fight oral bacteria. Include a few raw onions on your salad, and eat it at the end of your meal so that the lingering onion compounds can fight oral bacteria until you get the chance to brush.
Sweet potatoes are a vitamin-packed vegetable that helps build healthy gums, and healthy gums mean healthy teeth. They are rich in vitamin A, which promotes healing and is especially important if you are suffering from gingivitis. Enjoy your sweet potatoes without any added sugars—they're sweet enough on their own.
Foods to Avoid:
Sticky candy not only loosens your fillings, but it also coats your teeth in sugar, which can lead to premature decay. If you do eat sticky candy, make sure you brush and floss your teeth immediately afterwards.
Soda is a poor choice, even if you choose the sugar-free variety. It has an acidic composition, which makes it hard on tooth enamel. Sipping it all day will weaken your enamel and make you more prone to cavities. If you do drink soda, do so only with meals, as the other foods you consume will neutralize some of the acid.
Refined carbohydrates such as white crackers, pretzels and bread are not good for your teeth. The simple starches in these foods actually begin to break down into sugars in your mouth, making these foods almost as bad for your teeth as candy. Choose whole grain products, which take much longer to break down and don't leave as much sugar in your mouth, instead.
Sweetened coffee and tea are commonly sipped throughout the day. Unless you're running to the bathroom to brush your teeth every 30 minutes, this means your teeth are constantly being bathed in the sugar these beverages contain. Stick to unsweetened tea or coffee, or just drink water instead. If you can't shake the sugar, switch to just one cup of sweetened coffee or tea in the morning, and brush your teeth after drinking it.
Adopting healthier eating habits that will help you avoid tooth decay is not difficult if you make changes slowly. Start by replacing one "bad" food with a better one this week, and make one change per week until your diet is full of foods that are great for dental health, and devoid of ones that are not. Talk to a dentist, like Abigail Rollins, DMD, PC, for more information.