We all know that maintaining good oral hygiene by thorough brushing, flossing and regular check-ups is important. Your dental health is also everything to do with your diet. Whatever food or drink you choose to have not only affects your general health, but can have a major effect on your teeth and gums. Smart eating habits can help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Acids in the mouth can eat away at the tooth enamel leading to cavities. Most of this acid is produced by bacteria in our mouth when we eat food and drinks containing carbohydrates. This sticky film of bacteria is called plaque and constantly forms on the teeth. Tooth decay occurs when plaque comes in contact with sugars in your oral cavity that cause the bacteria to release acids that attack the tooth’s enamel. Food and drinks that stay in the mouth, or get stuck between the teeth, or are nibbled or sipped over long periods of time are the most likely to cause tooth decay.
What foods should you avoid to keep your teeth healthy?
Foods that have a high sugar content contribute to tooth decay and are best avoided. It is a good idea to check the nutritional details on food and drink labels and choose those with the least sugar content. Some foods and drinks with high sugar content are obvious, but some have sugars you may not be aware of. It also pays to stay away from highly acidic foods, sticky and chewy foods that tend to stay attached to and between your teeth, very hard foods, starchy and refined foods and foods that dry out your mouth.
The worst drinks for your teeth and gums:
- Soft Drinks. We all know that soft drinks are loaded with sugar. Carbonated drinks are also highly acidic and therefore provide a two-fold danger to your teeth. Even sugar free or diet drinks can still be pretty bad for your teeth as they contain citric and phosphoric acid.
- Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks. Although sports drinks sound healthy they are packed with sugar and acids. Likewise, energy drinks have been found to be the most acidic beverage and the second most erosive, with sports drinks being the most erosive!
- All alcoholic beverages pose a serious threat to your oral health. They cause dehydration and a dry mouth, reducing the flow of saliva. Saliva prevents food sticking to your teeth and can even help repair early signs of tooth decay and gum disease. Wines can also make your mouth sticky and are very acidic and can cause staining on your teeth.
- Coffee can make your teeth sticky and dry out your mouth. It is also acidic and is known to wear down the enamel and stain your teeth. And it’s worse if you add sugar!
- Fruit Juices. Although not as bad as the others listed above, most fruit juices are highly acidic, so while 100% fruit juices have heathy benefits, it pays to be aware.
The worst foods for your teeth and gums:
- Sticky and Chewy Lollies. Their high sugar content combined with their sticky nature and the longer chewing time required literally cause them to stick to the teeth allowing harmful bacteria to grow freely. Sour candies are even tougher on your teeth as they contain more and different kinds of acids.
- Hard Lollies. There is a risk when chewing hard lollies of damaging your enamel or even chipping a tooth. Letting them melt in your mouth could be even worse. Because they dissolve slowly, they saturate your teeth with sugar for a long time, giving bacteria plenty of time to produce harmful acid.
- Bread, Crackers and Potato Chips. You will notice when you chew bread and crackers that they form into a paste-like substance that sticks to the crevices in your teeth letting bacteria flourish. It’s the refined carbohydrates that are to blame. Potato chips, likewise, are loaded with starch which becomes sugar and gets trapped between your teeth.
- Citrus Fruits. Although packed with vitamin C, citrus fruits are also very acidic which can erode and decay your tooth enamel. Even squeezing lemons into water adds acid to the drink.
- Dried Fruits. You might think dried fruits are a healthy snack, but they can spell trouble for your teeth. Being sticky, they get stuck and cling in the teeth and their crevices leaving behind lots of sugar. They can be as bad for your teeth as eating lollies.
- It’s just water, so chewing it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Maybe not! Chewing something as hard could cause damage to the enamel or cause chipped or cracked teeth.
- Foods don’t have to be sticky or chewy to be bad. Hard and crunchy snacks like popcorn can also cause problems. Not only can they get trapped between your teeth, but hard un-popped kernels can be particularly damaging to the enamel or cause a cracked or broken tooth.
It’s quite a long list isn’t it! So now we should look at the foods that can help make your teeth healthy.
The Best Diet for Dental Health
Planning a good, healthy diet can make a huge difference to your oral health. It is always good to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and lean proteins in your meal plans. Here are some examples.
- Cheese, Milk & Yoghurt. One of the top healthy foods, cheese is a valuable source of calcium and just what our teeth love. Calcium, teamed up with phosphorus lowers the acidity in your mouth, restores the minerals in your enamel and keeps your teeth strong. Likewise, milk and yoghurt are rich in calcium.
- Leafy Greens. Not only are leafy greens rich in calcium, but also in folic acid and other important minerals that your teeth will love. Some great examples are spinach, broccoli and kale.
- Celery, Apples and Pears. Crunching on a piece of fresh celery, an apple or a pear produces saliva that neutralises the bacteria in your mouth. Their composition also makes them great abrasives and useful for cleaning your teeth and stimulating your gums.
- Lean Meats and Fatty Fish. Whilst meats are full of nutrients we need for good health, chewing them also generates saliva which we have discussed as being useful for reducing bacteria and acidity in the mouth. Fish, not only being rich in Vitamin D and Omega-3 acids, are also loaded with phosphorous, an important mineral for protecting tooth enamel.
- Nuts are full of heathy benefits for your teeth, loaded with elements like calcium and phosphorous. Try some almonds, brazil nuts and cashews in the fight against bacteria that leads to tooth decay.
- Black and Green Tea. Containing polyphenols, which slow down bacteria growth and acid production, and anti-oxidants, tea is also rich in fluoride, a mineral known for helping to prevent tooth decay.
And, of course, a healthy diet is accompanied with plenty of water, especially tap water containing fluoride. Water not only keeps you hydrated, but stimulates saliva production and helps to rinse food particles from on or around your teeth. So why not try a glass of water after your meal to help keep your teeth in tip top condition!