Keeping your teeth and gums healthy doesn’t only involve dental hygiene. While you should definitely brush, floss and regularly visit your dentist, the right diet can also protect your teeth and gums. Just as we have food good for our blood pressure and heart, we can eat certain foods to maintain our oral health. In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- The best foods for teeth enamel and structure
- How to eat a diet that keeps your mouth healthy
- Food that can harm your gums and teeth
- Recipes good for oral health
Drinks That Are Good for Your Teeth
Did you know that the best beverage for your oral health is not only free but easy to access? Simply grab a glass, turn on the sink and enjoy. That’s right — water helps your teeth and gums stay in top shape. Water maintains dental health in many ways, including:
- Rinsing your teeth. Don’t underestimate water’s ability to flush acid and sugars from your teeth. It can help you keep your teeth clean in between brushings. And since water doesn’t contain sugar or other teeth-damaging substances, you don’t have to worry about it adding damage.
- Promoting saliva production. Water also prevents dry mouth, in which you don’t make enough saliva. Saliva works just like water does to clean away leftover food, but it has the bonus of including calcium, phosphate and fluoride.
- Providing fluoride. Fluoride naturally wards off cavities. As a common mineral in water, you often get fluoride through bottled or tap water. Many places add fluoride to their water supply for extra dental protection.
If you prefer something with a little more flavor, milk provides oral health benefits of its own. Plain milk has tooth-boosting nutrients like calcium that help your body maintain your teeth’s strength.
Foods Good for Teeth Enamel
The enamel on your teeth acts as a natural layer of protection from damage and decay. Bacteria and other substances can weaken this enamel, leaving the tooth beneath susceptible to harm. When you have cavities, your tooth enamel has worn off in a particular spot. When making eating choices for oral health, you should prioritize foods that help you lower the number of damaging substances in your mouth. The following kinds of foods can reduce enamel erosion and therefore cavities:
- Chewy, high-fiber foods. If you’ve ever eaten an apple, you might have noticed how clean your teeth feel afterward. When you eat something high in fiber that requires chewing, the food physically removes debris as it contacts your teeth. The chewing itself encourages your mouth to make more saliva, which naturally cleans your mouth. Besides apples, you can also try spinach or nuts.
- Cheese and other dairy products. We already mentioned the benefits of milk in the previous section, but don’t count out other dairy products like cheese and yogurt. Calcium and casein, two nutrients found in dairy products, keep enamel strong. Cheese tends to have more casein than other kinds of dairy, but you can take advantage of these nutrients when eating other foods like yogurt.
- Sugar-free gum. Chewing gum maintains your teeth in many of the same ways that fibrous foods do. It helps you create more saliva to enhance your mouth’s natural self-cleaning process. We suggest sugarless gum because sugar can cause tooth decay, but you might want to opt for less acidic flavors like mint. Studies indicate that certain additives will harm your enamel, especially when combined with the sweetener xylitol. But, xylitol on its own actually prevents tooth decay.
As a general rule of thumb, drinking plenty of water after a meal can reduce food’s impact on your enamel. It removes some of the excess sugars, bacteria and acid left on your teeth after you eat.
Foods for Healthy Teeth and Bones
Some foods not only help your teeth, but they also help your bones. While teeth don’t technically count as bones, they have plenty of traits in common with them. Foods high in calcium and vitamin D provide benefits for both your teeth and bones. Research shows that osteoporosis has a link to periodontal disease. Eat these foods to keep your teeth and bones strong:
- Dairy products. Okay, we promise that this is the last time we’ll bring up dairy’s oral health benefits. Its combination of vitamin D and calcium lets it strengthen your bones and teeth while enhancing other aspects of dental health. If you can’t have dairy, try fortified products like almond milk that have similar nutrients.
- Fortified foods and beverages. Foods like margarine can have added vitamin D and calcium. Drinks like soy milk, rice milk and orange juice also often have extra nutrients.
- Fish. While it doesn’t have calcium in it, fish is an excellent source of vitamin D, which doesn’t appear naturally in many foods. Canned fish like tuna and salmon that includes the bones contain calcium in addition to vitamin D.
If you can’t eat one of these foods, you can also try supplements that include calcium and vitamin D. Multivitamins geared towards bone health can also offer some of the nutrients that strengthen teeth.
Eating Well for Oral Health
A healthy diet in general keeps your whole body in tune. In turn, a well-tuned body works harder to reduce tooth decay and promote gum health. Canada’s Food Guide gives a good overview of what proportions of food groups you should eat. Its recommendations include:
- Consuming a higher amount of fruits, vegetables and grains than dairy and meat. For example, women between ages 19 and 50 should have 7-8 servings of fruits/vegetables, 6-7 servings of grains, two servings of dairy and two servings of meat every day. That means eating over twice as many plant-based foods than animal-based foods. Keep in mind that Canada’s Food Guide categorizes beans and tofu as meat and soy milk as dairy. If you have a specific diet, read the serving guidelines carefully.
- Limiting sugars and fats. The guide suggests sticking to about 30 to 45 mL of unsaturated fat like cooking oil every day. It also recommends limiting your intake of sugary foods like cookies, granola bars, ice cream and muffins, but it doesn’t mention any specific numbers. Check the nutrition facts on food before buying — you might be surprised by how much fat and sugar it has!
- Consuming higher amounts of vitamin D after age 50. When you turn 50, your teeth and bone health become more important than ever. Make sure to add extra vitamin D to your diet if you’re over 50 years old.
Foods to Avoid to Protect Your Gums and Teeth
In addition to consuming foods good for your teeth, you should try to stay away from food that can harm your teeth. Avoid the following foods to maintain dental health:
- Acidic and dehydrating food and drinks. Coffee, tea and wine not only expose your enamel to acid, but they also have dehydrating effects. Moderate amounts of acidic foods and drinks shouldn’t put your teeth in too much harm, but many of us frequently drink one of these three beverages. And since they dehydrate your mouth, they reduce the saliva you produce, limiting your mouth’s natural cleaning system. If you do have something acidic, rinse your mouth with water — brushing your teeth immediately after can hurt your enamel.
- Sugar and sugar substitutes. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and multiply. When they reach high numbers, they stick to your teeth and cause decay. So, be careful with the amount of sugar you intake every day — aim for 10% or less of your daily calories. While we use sugar substitutes to avoid sugar’s detrimental effects, some of them do just as much damage to your teeth. They can also come in acidic foods or beverages.
- Hard or sticky foods. While crunchy foods like apples help you keep your mouth clean, hard and sticky foods can harm your teeth. Chewing on ice and other hard substances can damage your enamel or even break a tooth. We already know that sticky candies aren’t good for teeth due to their sugar content, but neither are other sticky foods like dried fruit. The food stays on your teeth longer, raising the chance of damage from acid or bacteria.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to cut these foods out of your diet completely. The less you eat of them, the better for you oral health, but moderation is the goal here.
How to Make Your Current Diet Better for Your Mouth
If you find that you don’t eat many foods recommended in this guide or have a lot of foods that can harm your teeth, don’t worry. Just like any other diet change, changing to a teeth-healthy diet doesn’t have to be perfect. Instead of trying to do everything all at once, consider making small changes here and there. You’d be surprised how much the little things build up! Simple dietary and lifestyle changes to make to protect your oral health include:
- Drinking water after consuming something acidic. Having some water after your daily cup of coffee will reduce the time that the coffee’s acid will stay on your teeth.
- Replacing as many beverages with water as possible. A sugary or acidic drink here or there shouldn’t cause harm, but try to stick to water as your primary source of hydration. And we mean tap or spring water, not sparkling — sparkling water also has acid in it.
- Reducing the amount of sugar in your tea or coffee. If you still need your daily caffeine fix, why not adjust how much sugar you add to it? Even just a little less sugar can lower the potential damage to your teeth.
- Monitoring the sugar in the groceries you buy and eat. Pay attention to nutrition labels to keep track of how much sugar you really eat every day.
- Eating sugary foods with a meal. When you eat something sweet with a meal, the added chewing creates extra saliva that protects your teeth from the sugar.
- Consuming more fish or taking a vitamin D supplement. Instead of the steak you were thinking about making for dinner, you could cook vitamin D-rich fish. If you don’t eat fish, even taking a supplement every day can make your bones and teeth stronger.
- Aiming to eat one teeth-healthy food a day. Even just switching out one food or meal every day for something beneficial for your teeth can go a long way.
All types of health, including dental hygiene, are about the journey, not the destination. Small lifestyle changes will always work better for you than trying to change everything overnight. And if you slip up now and then, no big deal — just try again the next day!
Teeth-Friendly Meals and Snacks
While it’s easy to think of individual foods that promote dental health, it’s a little trickier to put them together to make a meal. Fortunately, a lot of foods for strong teeth complement each other well. Need ideas for meals that will keep your teeth and gums in shape? Try some of these recipes:
- Smoked salmon quiche: Featuring eggs, fish and milk, this satisfying dish is a nutrient powerhouse for your teeth. While the salmon and eggs offer vitamin D, the milk seals the deal with calcium.
- Poached fish: While not quite a recipe, this cooking tip from Bon Appetit lets you make fish that’s not only flavorful but full of calcium to complement its vitamin D.
- Apple spinach salad: The spinach, apples and nuts in this salad help remove debris from your teeth. As a bonus, the goat cheese has enamel-boosting calcium. If you’d like, reduce the amount of vinegar in the dressing to lower its acidity.
Sometimes, you need a no-fuss snack that you can grab when you feel hungry. If you just want something to munch on in between meals, consider snacks such as:
- Apples, baby carrots and other crunchy fruits and vegetables: No time to brush your teeth? Let these fibrous foods keep your teeth clean between meals and your stomach full.
- Hard-boiled eggs: Egg yolks have vitamin D that helps your teeth stay durable. If you don’t like plain boiled eggs, try deviled eggs or egg salad with crackers — just go easy on fatty mayonnaise and oils.
- Fortified soy, almond or rice milk: Even if you drink dairy products, you can still take advantage of the vitamins in fortified milk alternatives. Choose plain or low-sugar flavors.
- String cheese: Cheese offers the triple whammy of vitamin D, calcium and casein and becomes conveniently portable when in a stick.
- Almonds: Grab a handful of almonds to snack on when you want to keep your teeth clean and get some extra calcium.
Of course, these ideas are only meant as a starting point — once you make some of these snacks and meals, you might get ideas for creations of your own. Just remember what foods keep teeth healthy and to avoid excess acids and sugars.
Regular Dentist Visits as Part of Good Oral Hygiene
Getting regular cleanings and examinations from a dentist is also an essential part of maintaining dental health. At Dental Choice, we strive to keep your teeth as healthy as possible during these visits. Request an appointment for our dentistry services online. Or, call our Calgary-Airdrie office at 403.265.2527 or our Edmonton location at 780.444.8936.