Which foods are good for our teeth?

It’s not just cleaning our teeth that can help keep them strong and healthy. Food and drink can make a big difference. Did you know some foods invite tooth decay? It’s like sending them an invitation to the best birthday party ever! Whereas, other foods help fight plaque build-up and tooth decay. Here are some of the best and the worst…

The good guys

  1. Fruit and vegetables are well known for being good for you, but they also help your teeth. The sugar and starch released from these foods encourage saliva, which washes out and neutralises the acid and enzymes attacking our teeth. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate, so it also restores minerals to areas of teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids. Saliva is nature’s best natural defence against cavity and gum disease.
  2. Dairy products like cheese, milk and plain yogurt are also excellent at generating saliva. They’re packed with calcium and phosphates that strengthen your teeth, and help restore any lost minerals caused by ‘the bad guy foods’ listed below. Dairy products can also rebuild tooth enamel. If you’re vegan, try choosing foods with added calcium or take a calcium supplement.
  3. Green and black tea both contain ‘polyphenols’, which are good at either killing or holding back bacteria from growing. The water you use for tea can also help strengthen your teeth if it contains a source of fluoride.
  4. Meats and plant-based alternatives benefit your teeth because they’re rich in protein and a great source of phosphorous, as is fish, like salmon. Chewing meat also produces a lot of saliva, which helps wash away food particles and acids that can cause tooth decay. Choose leaner cuts of red meat, fish and skinless poultry. Meat can easily get stuck between your teeth though, so make sure you floss or use an interdental brush.
  5. Nuts are full of health benefits for your teeth. They are packed with calcium and phosphorus. Almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews can help fight bacteria that lead to tooth decay, and peanuts are a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Because nuts need a fair amount of chewing, they also stimulate saliva. Walnuts are possibly the king of nuts, containing everything from fibre to folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc. But, it’s cheating if you choose the sugar-coated ones!!
  6. Water. Good ole straight-from-the-tap water! It washes away food debris between brushing sessions, and you may be lucky enough to live in an area where fluoride has been added to your water supply. Early in the 20th century, levels of tooth decay were found to be associated with fluoride levels in drinking water. This led to the introduction of schemes to add fluoride to water supplies to improve dental health. Community water fluoridation schemes have since operated for many years. The first scheme was introduced in the US in 1945. The first substantive UK scheme was established in Birmingham in 1964. The NHS page has a number of interesting studies on water treated with fluoride here and lists which water suppliers add fluoride.

The bad guys

You know what’s coming…

  1. Sweets. If you eat sweets, try choosing ones that aren’t sticky or won’t stick around, and can be washed off your teeth quickly. So, avoid anything hard and boiled like lollipops, chews, toffees, and cough drops. Chocolate is generally considered easier to wash off, and dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa has even been proven to have some benefits in preventing cavities. In studies, pure cocoa powder in chocolate by itself, without any sugar, had both demineralizing and remineralizing effects because of the coexistence of theobromine and caffeine, and may even help prevent dental caries (tooth decay). But this still hasn’t been 100% proven.
  2. Starchy foods, like soft breads, cakes, chips and crisps can easily get trapped between your teeth. Keep your floss handy!
  3. Carbonated soft drinks. Cola, lemonade, and most fizzy drinks generally are the leading source of adding sugar to a kid or teens’ diet. They sugar bombs. A standard 330ml can has around 9 teaspoons of refined sugar. Even if you opt for zero calorie version, most soft drinks still contain phosphoric and citric acids that wear away tooth enamel.
  4. Processed foods are full of sugar. Cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals, cereal bars, jams, canned fruit in syrup, and some sauces, such as pasta sauce, marinades and ketchup. Flavoured milks and yoghurts can also hide a ton of sugar, and baby food pouches have recently come under fire from the British Dental Association.

In summary, world dental associations recommend:

  • Eating and drinking for a healthier mouth.
  • Wash out anything sugary or brush it away rather than leave it to make a home in your mouth.
  • If you eat sugary foods, eat them with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva. This helps to reduce the effect of acid production and to rinse food debris from the mouth.
  • Limit snacks between meals and try choosing something nutritious.
  • 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.

The information provided in these Toothy Facts come from a wide variety of sources, including:

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