Keeping your teeth strong and your mouth healthy takes more than brushing, flossing and checking in regularly with your dentist. Eating a balanced diet helps your body build and repair itself, avoid illness, and function at its best. In general, what’s great for your overall health is equally great for your teeth and gums. But there are some specific foods that support oral health – and others that you’ll want to avoid for your smile’s sake.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, fruits and veggies have amazing health benefits. Plus, chewing on crisp veggies and fruits helps stimulate salvia production, which keeps your teeth and gums fresh and neutralizes the acids that can lead to decay. Do remember to rinse with plain water after consuming acidic citrus fruits or drinks to help protect your teeth.
If you’re avoiding grains to stay slim, you may wish to rethink your diet plan. Whole grains are healthy, in moderation, and provide essential nutrients. And research indicates that whole grains can ward off gum disease. In a study of almost 35,000 men aged 40 to 75, those who consumed whole grains were 23 percent less likely to get gum disease. Why? Researchers believe that whole grains and fiber boost the body’s ability to process blood glucose. Lowering sugar levels in blood creates a healthier oral environment.
Calcium supports bone growth and keeps your muscles, blood vessels, and nerves functioning properly. The National Academy of Sciences states that infants and toddlers (ages 1 to 3) need 500 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day; children ages 4 to 8 need 800 mg per day; older children and teens (ages 9 to 18) need 1,300 mg per day; adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 mg per day; and older adults (ages 51 and older) need 1,200 mg per day. Pregnant and nursing mothers younger than age 19 need 1,300 mg per day; pregnant and nursing mothers ages 19 and older need 1,000 mg per day.
Get your calcium from:
Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli
Seeds and nuts, such as raw sesame seeds (almost 1000 mg of calcium per 100g serving), Chia seeds (a 3.5 ounce serving can provide about 631mg of calcium), and almonds (266mg of calcium per 100g).
Beans, especially white beans (175mg of calcium per cup) and navy beans (127 mg per cup).
Tip: if you’re eating yogurt to up your intake of calcium, choose regular yogurt over Greek yogurt. Regular yogurt has about three times the calcium of Greek yogurt. But Greek yogurt has almost double the protein of regular yogurt.
Adequate amounts of vitamin D are required for your body to absorb calcium from food. Adults age 19 to 70 need 600 IU of Vitamin D daily. If you're older than 70, you need 800 IU a day. You can get vitamin D from exposure to sunshine, but wearing a sunscreen can block your body’s ability to produce enough Vitamin D. Other good sources of this vitamin are
Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and shrimp
Cod and fish liver oils
Food with added vitamin D, such as milk and some cereals, yogurts, and orange juice
Phosphorus is also required to maximize calcium’s bone building benefits. This is especially important for children who are developing their permanent teeth. Phosphorus-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs. Vegetarians and vegans can get their phosphorus from cereals, wheat germ, soy beans, almonds and other nuts, grapes, citrus fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes.
Good cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is widely considered to be the healthiest oil. In the countries where olive oil is widely used, the oil is credited for having anti-inflammatory properties among other health benefits, and is thought to support gum health and the body’s ability to repair infected tissues.
Sugar is horrible for your teeth, as it feeds oral bacteria that then release acids which weaken tooth enamel. This dental erosion process creates tiny, shallow holes (cavities), which often get deeper and bigger over time, as the decay works its way down to the soft pulp inside the tooth. Simply stated: sugar eats your teeth.
But not all sugar is equally bad. Some foods that are good for you – such as fruit and dairy – have naturally-occurring sugar. Fruit (and some vegetables) has fructose, and milk has lactose. Our bodies digest naturally occurring sugars differently. The fiber in fruit slows the absorption of fructose, and the protein in milk balances the release of lactose. Naturally occurring sugar doesn’t shock our bodies the way added sugars do.
And, in general, foods with added sugars – such as sodas, sports drinks, breakfast cereal and snack foods - tend to lack the nutritional benefits of unprocessed foods. That said, any sugary food still creates bacteria’s preferred environment in our mouths, so limit consumption of sweet treats and rinse your mouth with water after consuming foods like fruits, yogurt or milk.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest that we get no more than 10 percent of our daily calories from added sugars. Going lower than that is a good idea. To reduce your intake of added sugars, avoid or strictly limit foods that contain ingredients such as anhydrous dextrose, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar) and sucrose. You can find a comprehensive list of added sweeteners here. In 2018, new food nutrition labels will make it much easier to spot added sugars in foods and drinks.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines advise us to consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats. While not directly damaging to your teeth, diets rich in saturated fat and trans fat raise blood cholesterol and can result in clogged arteries that block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, brain and tissues like your gums.
Strictly from a dental perspective, it’s smart to reduce your sodium intake, The amount of calcium that your body loses via urination increases with the amount of salt you eat. If you have low levels of calcium in your blood, your body may try to correct the imbalance by leaching it out of your teeth and bones. Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium.
Per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating a varied diet across and within all food groups is the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Choosing foods that are dense in nutrients – like the ones in the “do eat” section above - these help you stay within a sensible calorie count without sacrificing your nutritional needs. Nutrient-dense foods also contain essential vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, and other naturally occurring substances that have positive health effects for oral and overall health.
But do find a way to include your favorite foods, even in carefully controlled amounts, to create a personalized, healthy eating plan that you can happily maintain over your lifetime. So, if you’ve been skipping regular checkups and cleanings due to budget concerns and no dental insurance, consider getting a dental savings plan. These plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance, providing plan members with discounts of 10%-60% on the majority of dental services. Find out more at dentalplans.com.
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