We’d like to think that brushing our teeth, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash are all it takes to get (and keep) a great smile, but many people forget that certain foods can harm our teeth, despite our best efforts at protection. Acids, sugars, tannins and more occur naturally in the foods we eat, and too much of one substance – even if it seems healthy – can lead to an imbalance in our intra-oral health. Whether you’re training at dental school or just want to avoid cavities and stained teeth, it’s important to know which foods can help improve the condition of your teeth, and which foods you should steer clear of.
Cheese, milk, and yogurt are all excellent sources of calcium. As any student in a dental assistant program will know, our teeth are mainly composed of calcium. Drinking a tall glass of milk or consuming any other dairy products works to strengthen tooth enamel. The calcium in cheese infiltrates the layer of plaque surrounding your teeth to prevent erosion. Dairy also contains casein, an animal protein that is important for the reparation of tooth enamel. All around, dairy scores big points in maintaining a healthy smile!
If you think back to the last time you ate a salad or an apple, you may recall that both these foods generally take a bit of work (and time) to chew and swallow. This is because they are full of fiber. High-fiber foods are great for your oral health because they promote the production of saliva, and while you’re chewing, they scrub at your teeth and wear away plaque. The crunchier the better, because the longer you chew, the more dental plaque is disturbed and bacteria are washed away. Just make sure you floss afterward to catch that stray piece of spinach in your teeth!
Nuts are a fantastic alternative to starchy or sugary snacks—not only do they fill you up better, they also provide the body and teeth with important minerals and vitamins. Peanuts contain calcium and vitamin D (which helps absorb calcium), almonds are well-known for being high in calcium, and cashews stimulate tooth-cleaning saliva. Walnuts are an incredible source of iron (prevents sores in the mouth), zinc (controls plaque, hardens teeth) and Vitamin E (helps control inflammation). We give nuts two thumbs up.
Worst Offenders: Soda, Sweets and Starchy Snacks
There’s a reason they’re called junk food! Any intra-oral dental course will instruct you that foods full of sugar will erode your teeth. Most sweets are eaten as a snack, meaning there is no food or excess saliva to wash away the sugars. If you do plan to eat sweets, it’s best to eat them with other foods or after a meal, when there is plenty of saliva being produced for digestion. Sodas are particularly nasty offenders because the carbonation and sugar combination thins the enamel on your teeth. Starchy snacks like chips, bread, and crackers also don’t do much good for your intra-oral health, because starches convert to sugar almost as soon as they are broken down by acids in the mouth. Bacteria then feed off these sugars, causing tooth decay.
What’s your go-to tooth-friendly food?