The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth
If you are what you eat, that's particularly true for your teeth and gums. When you
drink and munch starchy or sugary foods, you're not only feeding yourself, you're
feeding the bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease in your mouth. Plaque
is a thin, invisible, sticky film of sticky bacteria and other materials that covers
all the surfaces of all your teeth. When sugars or starches in your mouth come in
contact with plaque, the acids that result can attack teeth for 20 minutes or more
after you finish eating. Repeated attacks can break down the hard enamel on the surface
of teeth. This leads to tooth decay. The bacteria in plaque also triggers an inflammatory
response that causes the breakdown of the gums, bone, and other supporting structures
of your teeth.
Although some foods invite tooth decay, others help fight plaque buildup. Here are
some foods to seek out and some to avoid.
The good guys
Some suggested foods:
Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Foods with fiber have a detergent effect in your
mouth, says the American Dental Association (ADA). They also get saliva flowing. Next
to good home dental care, this is your best natural defense against cavities and gum
disease. About 20 minutes after you eat something containing sugars or starches, your
saliva begins to reduce the effects of the acids and enzymes attacking your teeth.
Because saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate, it also restores minerals
to areas of teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids.
Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products. Cheese is another saliva maker.
The calcium in cheese, and the calcium and phosphates in milk and other dairy products,
help put back minerals your teeth might have lost due to other foods.
Green and black teas. Both contain polyphenols that interact with plaque bacteria.
These substances either kill or hold back bacteria. This prevents them from growing
or producing acid that attacks teeth. Depending on the type of water you use to brew
your tea, a cup of tea can also be a source of fluoride.
Sugarless chewing gum. This is another great saliva maker that removes food particles
from your mouth.
Foods with fluoride. Fluoridated drinking water, or any product you make with fluoridated
water, helps your teeth. This includes powdered juices (as long as they don't contain
a lot of sugar) and dehydrated soups. Commercially prepared foods, like poultry products,
seafood, and powdered cereals, also can give fluoride.
The bad guys
Some items to avoid:
Sticky candies and sweets. If you eat sweets, go for those that clear out of your
mouth quickly. So thumbs down for lollipops, caramels, and cough drops that contain
refined sugar. The effects of chocolate on preventing cavities has been widely promoted
(largely by studies funded by the candy industry). But this has not been totally proven.
Dark chocolate (70% cacao) does have some health benefits. Some studies have shown
chocolate to be not as bad as other sugary treats.
Starchy foods that can get stuck in your mouth. Soft breads and potato chips, for
instance, can get trapped between your teeth.
Carbonated soft drinks. These drinks are the leading source of added sugar among kids
and teens. Besides being loaded with sugar, most soft drinks contain phosphoric and
citric acids that wear away tooth enamel.
Substances that dry out your mouth. These include alcohol and many medicines. If medicines
are the cause, consider talking to your healthcare provider about getting a fluoride
rinse, or a fluoride gel for brushing your teeth.
Eat for a healthy mouth
The ADA offers these tips to help reduce tooth-decay risk from the foods you eat:
Eat sugary foods with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva during meals, and this helps
to reduce the effect of acid production and to rinse pieces of food from the mouth.
Limit between-meal snacks. If you crave a snack, choose something nutritious. Consider
chewing sugarless gum afterward to increase saliva flow and wash out food and acid.
Drink more water. Fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. If you choose bottled
water, check the label for the fluoride content.
Brush your teeth twice a day.
Floss once a day.