It’s pretty unfortunate that the types of snacks we want to eat (read: sugary ones) aren’t usually known for being great for our teeth. It’s a safe bet you’ve never heard a dentist pushing you to chow down on more Pixy Stix after your annual cleaning. While we have a solid idea of what you shouldn’t eat, does anyone ever lecture you on the snacks you SHOULD eat for a healthy smile? We consulted with experts to find out the foods you should be consuming to boost the strength your pearly whites, along with the habits that will save your chompers from future distress.
Food and Teeth—How Do They Intersect?
No one is going to tell you that your teeth are going to fall out of your mouth after eating three red Skittles, but we do know there’s an intersecting relationship between snacking and tooth health. “Literally, you are what you eat. If you eat an unhealthy diet packed with added sugars, it will have a negative effect on your gums and teeth. However, a diet full of antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients with help ensure healthy teeth,” says Keri Gans, a nutritionist, dietician, and the author of The Small Change Diet.
Clearly, what you eat matters—but how much of it plays a part, too. The impact of moderation is something that always seems to pop up. “Moderation is key in almost all aspects of our lives Overeating in general leads to being overweight, and that may create a whole host of medical conditions including heart disease,” says Gans. “There is even some research to support a link between heart disease and periodontal disease.”
So that’s suitably alarming. What should you throw in your grocery basket to avoid mouth issues?
Cover Your Calcium and Vitamin D Bases
These are the nutrients that will bring strength to your teeth, which is a quality you’ll want when chewing a piece of steak. “Calcium in general helps support bone health, and vitamin D is needed to increase the absorption of the calcium. Choose foods such as low fat unsweetened yogurt, low fat milk, low fat cottage cheese, cheese, fortified OJ, soy and almond milk, sardines, and dark leafy greens,” Gans tells us.
Don’t Forget Vitamin C!
“Foods rich in Vitamin C, like oranges, berries, tomato and broccoli are great for teeth,” says Gans. “Vitamin C is an antioxidant which helps decrease inflammation and may protect your gums from cell damage.” However, she does mention that if you’re getting your vitamin C from oranges, you need to keep in mind how much acidic food you’re eating in general—because too much acidic food can erode tooth enamel. Eek!
Unlike an excess of acidic foods like citrus, a healthy portion of this acid can give your smile some TLC. Gans says that foods rich in folic acid—asparagus, peas, spinach, and fortified cereals—can be beneficial to the health of your teeth and gums. “Folic acid supports cell growth and cell repair throughout our bodies,” she says.
Foods With a Crunch—And No, We Don’t Mean Candy
“Raw and crisp foods—such as apples, celery, carrots are good for teeth. These foods help to promote saliva, which washes away food particles and decreases the risk for tooth decay,” explains Gans. Because they wash food away from your teeth, she also says they could be beneficial on your journey to whiter teeth, too. Sign us up!
Gans says that there is “research to support they may help reduce bacteria from forming on teeth” That, in turn, could reduce tooth decay. But don’t go buying dried fruit in bulk—that could contribute to tooth decay because in dried form, they tend to stick around on your teeth. But don’t think you can drink your way to healthier teeth—cranberry juice mixed in with your booze isn’t the best idea. “Watch how much alcohol you’re consuming,” cautions Gans. Drinking to excess can “decrease your saliva, which in the long run could cause bacterial infection and gum disease.”
Obviously, It’s Not All About Food
You’ve got to keep those brushing and flossing habits in check, as a mouth filled with even healthy food isn’t going to be a happy one. “Everyone knows that brushing their teeth is important, but I always stress to my patients how critical flossing is to their hygiene routine at home. Nothing can clean in-between the teeth like floss, and without it you are leaving your mouth prone to decay and gum disease,” says Dr. Laura Ruof, a New York City-based dentist.
“A third of your tooth structure is in-between the teeth. If you aren’t flossing then that area is not being cleaned,” says Dr. Ruof. “Also, when decay starts in-between the teeth, it usually causes two cavities—one on each tooth. By regularly removing food and bacteria from in-between the teeth, you are preventing that decay from starting in those areas.”
Keep your floss in plain sight and make sure it’s a habit that’s kept. With super convenient products like DenTek’s Comfort Clean Floss Picks or even DenTek Sensitive Extra Gentle Floss Picks if sensitivity is an issue, flossing becomes less of a chore, especially if reaching those back molars is difficult for you. By eating good food, and embracing healthy habits, you’ll have a more brilliant smile in no time!