Healthy Foods for a Healthy Smile
We all know, whether we practice it or not, that brushing and flossing on a daily basis, visiting your dentist at one of our four Alabama Family Dentistry offices in the Birmingham and central Alabama area twice a year for a cleaning and annual exam, and having necessary restorative procedures completed on a timely basis is essential for a healthy mouth, but were you aware that the kind of foods you eat, and how and when you eat them can also help or harm your long-term dental health? Overall, poor eating habits can contribute to development of gum disease, cavities, bad breath and a myriad of physical conditions. During National Nutrition Awareness Month in March, learning how food affects your oral health is the first step towards having a healthy smile.
The Short and Sweet of Foods That are Bad for Your Oral Health
What and how you eat has been directly found to link to tooth erosion. Tooth enamel is the first line of defense against decay. If the enamel on your teeth becomes eroded or impaired, there is a higher risk for tooth sensitivity and decay. Eating high-acid foods as well as foods containing fermentable carbohydrates work with bacteria to form acids that begin the decay process, causing the tooth under the enamel to lose minerals faster than they can be replaced, and eventually destroy teeth. They include the obvious sugary foods, such as cookies, cakes, soft drinks and candy. But they also include less obvious foods, such as certain fruits and juice that can erode enamel, and hidden sources of sugars including bread, crackers, bananas and breakfast cereals. If these foods are eaten throughout the day they can harm a person’s teeth if no effort is made to counteract the effects.
Foods That Are Good for Your Teeth
There are foods that have been found to help strengthen tooth enamel, increase saliva production, neutralize acids, and aid in a process called re-mineralization. Some foods actually help to protect teeth from decay. Foods high in calcium, in conjunction with foods rich in vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption are recommended. Try these healthy teeth promoting food choices:
Calcium. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as milk, cheese, and plain yogurt are calcium staples that don’t add unhealthy saturated fat to your diet. Hard cheese is very efficient at helping to neutralize the acids found in foods that threaten tooth enamel. Other good sources of calcium are green leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy, and even Brussels sprouts, which contain a healthy boost of vitamin C, too.
Vitamin D. Egg yolks, mushrooms, and most fish are excellent sources of the vitamin D you need to absorb calcium, which builds and maintains healthy teeth.
Vitamin C. Red peppers and sweet potatoes can provide the vitamin C necessary for healthy gums, which help keep your teeth firmly in place. Citrus fruits like oranges are also high in vitamin C, but you have to be careful of their acidity.
It’s All in the Crunch. The crisp texture of crunchy fruits and vegetables can help wipe away plaque-causing bacteria on your teeth. They can also increase the production of saliva, which helps neutralize bacteria in your mouth. Apples, pears, celery, and carrots are all good choices. However, even a healthy food like an apple can expose teeth to damaging acid when eaten slowly. To reduce the impact of acid, brush your teeth before eating and drink water or rinse immediately after.
Xylitol. Chewing sugarless gum containing this ingredient helps dislodge particles of food stuck in your teeth, and also increases saliva flow to help neutralize the acids
Timing is Everything
If you want to prevent cavities, how often you eat can be just as important as what you eat. That’s because food affects your teeth and mouth long after you swallow. So it follows that the longer food stays in contact with bacteria on the tooth, the more acids will be produced. Depending on your eating and drinking patterns, it’s possible that bacteria can be in a constant acid production mode. Sipping sweetened drinks throughout the day, or grazing on sweet or starchy snacks can produce the same effect. In fact, research supports that people who consume such snacks between meals have significantly higher rates of tooth damage than even people who include a comparable amount of sweet and fermentable carbohydrates with their meals.
More Healthy Food Tips
To prevent tooth decay, you should follow a few extra guidelines. This can help to keep the amount of acid created by the bacteria on your teeth to a minimum. Here are some tips:
Limit between-meal snacking. Fewer snacks mean less acid exposure for your teeth. If you snack, choose foods that are not fermentable carbohydrates, like cheese, meats, or nuts that neutralize acids or provide calcium and phosphorus needed to put minerals back in the teeth. Firm fruits such as apples and pears and vegetables are also a good choice. Worst pick? Of course the stuff we love to munch – any processed food containing processed sugars and fermentable carbohydrates.
Limit drinks containing sugar. If you do indulge, avoid sipping them throughout the day. Try to choose unsweetened beverages and water, especially fluoridated water. Sugarless carbonated drinks, while omitting the sugar, do have the capability to erode enamel with their acid, so brush after a half hour or follow with water.
No sucking hard candies or mints. Choose the sugarless varieties.
Limit Quantity of Very Acidic Foods. Added acids may contribute to a loss of minerals in the teeth, which is cumulative.
Brush Teeth. Remove plaque bacteria after eating and after drinking sugary drinks and schedule regular dental cleanings.
It’s important for our patients at Alabama Family Dentistry to not only be aware of the foods and eating habits that contribute toward development of dental decay and gum disease, but also what foods and dietary supplements we need to eat in order to provide our teeth with an extra boost of healthy vitamins and minerals. And who knew hard cheeses could neutralize acid causing bacteria? To keep your teeth strong and whole, your gums irritation free, and your smile white, see our dentists and dental hygienists at one of our four locations throughout the Birmingham, Gardendale, Warrior, Sumiton, and surrounding communities on a regular basis.