When you think about maintaining a healthy smile, what probably comes to mind is brushing your teeth, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly. But there’s more to oral health. A healthy diet can help prevent or slow the effects of tooth decay and gum disease.
Here are some foods that can help or hinder your quest for great oral health:
Most fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are high in water and fiber, so they clean your teeth by removing food particles. Crunchy produce like carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, apples, and pears are especially effective in cleaning your teeth. They stimulate saliva flow to wash away and neutralize acids that attack your teeth, helping protect you from tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, saliva contains calcium and phosphate that helps restore tooth enamel. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are great sources of teeth-strengthening calcium.
Many fruits and vegetables are also high in enamel-building vitamin A and vitamin C, which is key for healthy gums. Citrus fruits can be both a friend and foe, as they contain vitamin C but are also acidic.
Cheese, low-sugar yogurt, and other dairy products
The calcium and phosphates in dairy products help your smile. That’s because they strengthen teeth by rebuilding enamel and putting minerals back in teeth. Cheese also helps prevent dry mouth and cavities because you produce more saliva when you eat it.
Lean meats, poultry, fish (especially fatty fish like salmon), and eggs all provide plenty of protein and phosphorus — minerals that protect and rebuild tooth enamel.
Many kinds of nuts are packed with protein, while some, like peanuts, are also full of vitamin D and calcium that work together to strengthen your teeth. Because they’re crunchy, nuts are another food that stimulates teeth-cleaning saliva. Brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews help fight bacteria, so they protect against tooth decay.
Add whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole oats, and more to your diet for optimal oral health. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that take longer for your body to break down into simple sugars. This slower digestion process means whole grains can easily pass through the mouth, allowing for proper breakdown and absorption in the stomach and throughout the digestive system.
Sugary and starchy foods
Sugary and starchy foods don’t just feed you. They feed the bacteria in the plaque on your teeth and gums and lead to oral health problems. When bacteria are fed, acids form and attack your teeth for 20 minutes or more after you consume sugars and starches, which can break down your tooth enamel and cause tooth decay.
Don’t be fooled by foods that sound healthy but contain surprising amounts of sugar or carbs — including dried fruit, cereal bars, ketchup, pretzels, wraps, white rice, and more.
Foods that get caught in your teeth
Foods that stick to your teeth for a long time are more likely to cause tooth decay than foods that can easily be washed away by saliva. Dried fruit, cake, cookies, hard candy, caramels, taffy, soft breads, crackers and chips are among the worst culprits when it comes to clinging to your teeth.
Some acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, are nutritious but can damage tooth enamel and irritate mouth sores. Damaged tooth enamel can cause pain, sensitivity, discoloration and cavities. Nutritious but acidic foods can be eaten in moderation, but don’t suck on the acidic juice of a lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit. Sour candies also tend to be highly acidic and provide no nutritional value. They should be avoided.
If you do indulge in food foes of your teeth, eat them only with meals when your mouth makes more saliva. That will help reduce the effects of acid and rinse food from your teeth. Make sure to end the meal with a refreshing drink of water to help clean your teeth.