If you’re the typical American, chances are high your diet is less than ideal. According to the U.S. President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, 40% of our total caloric intake comes from sugar and solid fats, while only half of us eat the recommended servings of vegetables. These and other poor food habits can contribute to major health problems—including problems with your teeth and gums. So, in recognition of National Nutrition Month in March, we want to highlight a few foods that can boost your dental health.
First, though, let’s take a quick look at the number one food item with the opposite effect on your dental health: sugar. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but a diet high in added sugar dramatically increases your dental disease risk. That’s because it’s also a favorite food of bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease.
Cutting back on sugar is often a tough undertaking. But a great strategy for reducing your sugar consumption—and improving your dental health overall—is to eat more of the following food items.
Plant foods. Not only are fresh fruits and vegetables loaded with tooth-friendly vitamins and minerals, just chewing the more fibrous variety has a healthy effect on your teeth and gums. Chewing stimulates saliva production, which helps buffer acid generated during eating, and even releases immune helper cells that help protect us against infection.
Cheese. Eating a piece of cheese also stimulates saliva. In addition, cheese is rich in calcium, which can help fortify your enamel against disease. You can obtain calcium, phosphorus and casein (a milk protein that is especially good for teeth) from a modest portion of milk or other dairy products as well.
Black and green teas. A steeped brew of either of these teas is rich in antioxidant compounds that can help protect you against oral cancer. And black tea also contains traces of natural fluoride, a proven compound for strengthening enamel against tooth decay.
Chocolate. Surprise! Yes, there’s some evidence that the cocoa in chocolate may help deter tooth decay. But, there’s also a cloud in this silver lining: Most processed chocolates (especially milk chocolate) are heavily sweetened, which can cancel out the decay protection. Still, the darker and less sweet the chocolate, the better for your dental health.
As a quick rule of thumb, you can do wonders for your dental health by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods, while reducing your intake of processed foods, especially sugary snacks. Good nutrition, along with dedicated oral hygiene, can help keep your teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on how a better diet can benefit your teeth and gums, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nutrition & Oral Health.”