The Best Foods For A Healthy Smile and Whole Body
You’ve probably heard the saying, you are what you eat; well that's particularly true for your teeth and gums.
Those starchy or sugary foods we love are also loved by the bacteria in your mouth that can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
The difference between a healthy smile and frequent visits to the dentist has a lot to do with your diet. Even with a good oral hygiene routine (brushing twice a day, flossing once a day), it can still be hard to keep your teeth healthy over the long term.
Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups promotes healthy teeth and gums. This means maintain a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, protein foods, calcium-rich foods and whole grains for a healthy smile as well as a healthy body.
So, which foods are best for teeth and gum health?
Some of the best foods for healthy teeth are fresh fruits and veggies because of their high nutritional value and added teeth cleaning benefits. Then, there’s calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, fortified soy drinks, tofu, canned salmon, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables that help promote strong teeth and bones. Chewing on crunchy foods gets the saliva going, which along with water, helps to wash away plaque causing bacteria and food particles.
32 of the best foods and drinks for healthy teeth, gums and whole body
Cheese, Milk, and Yogurt
Cheese is one of the best foods for healthy teeth for a number of reasons. First, it is low in sugar and high in calcium. It contains casein, which is a protein that is particularly useful for fortifying tooth enamel. Cheese is high in calcium, which is important for maintaining bone density. Cheese is also high in phosphate content, which helps balance pH levels in the mouth, which helps to preserve tooth enamel. Another great reason cheese is a friend to our teeth is that chewing it increases saliva production, which helps to wash away bacteria in the mouth.
Aside from good old fashioned fluoridated water, milk is the best drink when it comes to your teeth. It’s rich in calcium and other important elements. Milk, like cheese, also lowers the acid levels in the mouth, which helps fighting tooth decay.
Yogurt is packed with calcium and probiotics that protect you against cavities, gum disease and even bad breath.
Water is unlike any other drink, and is by far the healthiest drink available. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. And--drinking water really helps your teeth stay health – especially if it’s fluoridated. Drinking water with fluoride, which is “nature’s cavity fighter,” is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities. And, water helps wash away food particles and keeps your saliva levels high.
4 Ways Drinking Water Improves Your Smile
Drinking water with fluoride, is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities.
Here are 4 reasons why drinking more fluoridated water improves oral health. Water is unlike any other drink, and is by far the healthiest drink available. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. And--drinking water really helps your teeth stay health – especially if it’s fluoridated.
Read more: 4 Ways Drinking Water Improves Your Smile
Celery, Carrots, and Other Crunchy Veggies
Many vegetables are good for teeth because they require a lot of chewing to clean teeth surfaces. Crunchy, firm foods that contain lots of water are great natural teeth cleaners because they stimulate the flow of saliva, which helps to scrub away food particles and bacteria. These fresh crunchy veggies are usually also packed with some of the most important minerals and vitamins for your mouth.
Celery is probably the closest thing to nature’s dental floss. The crunchy and fibrous texture makes for a very effective natural teeth cleaner.
In addition to packing lots of nutrients, carrots are also one of the great cavity-fighting vegetables. Carrots contain lots of vitamin C, calcium and keratins which all offer dental benefits. Eating fresh carrots also helps to clean your teeth – like a natural toothbrush. When combined with your saliva, carrots help to wash away stain-causing bacteria and food particles.
Leafy Greens (Spinach, Lettuce, Kale)
Super healthy, leafy greens are rich in calcium, folic acid and lots of important vitamins and minerals that your teeth and gums love. Crunchy fresh greens in salads and sandwiches also help in cleaning your teeth.
Apples and Pears
Will an apple a day keep the dentist away? Maybe not, but it will certainly help. Eating apples or other hard fibrous fruits can help clean your teeth and increases salivation, which can neutralize the citric and malic acids left behind in your mouth. And while sugary apple juice may contribute to tooth decay, fresh apples are less likely to cause problems. This is because chewing the fibrous texture of apples stimulates your gums, further reducing cavity-causing bacteria and increasing saliva flow.
Unlike many acidic fruits, raw pears are good at neutralizing acids in your mouth that cause decay.
Eat Fruits and Veggies For A Healthy Smile
What are the best foods for healthy teeth?
Some of the best foods for healthy teeth are fresh fruits and veggies because of their nutritional and mouth health benefits. Crisp fruits and raw vegetables, like apples, carrots and celery, help clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath. Many fruits and vegetable contain lots of antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C, that help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection. For healthy teeth and gums this summer, look for these fruits and veggies in your local grocery or farmers market.
Read more: Fruits and Veggies For A Healthy Smile
Nuts are full of health benefits for your teeth. They are packed with tons of important elements like calcium and phosphorus. Especially beneficial are almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews, which help to fight bacteria that lead to tooth decay. For instance, peanuts are a great source of calcium and vitamin D, and almonds offer good amounts of calcium, which is beneficial to teeth and gums. Cashews are known to stimulate saliva and walnuts contain everything from fiber, folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc.
Meats and Fatty Fish
Most meats offer some of the most important nutrients mentioned above, and chewing meat produces saliva. And more saliva is good, because it decreases acidity in your mouth and washes away particles of food that lead to decay. Red meat and even organ meats are especially beneficial.
Fatty fish (like salmon), and tofu are loaded with phosphorus, an important mineral for protecting tooth enamel.
Tea and Coffee
Heard of polyphenols? Polyphenols are a category of chemicals that naturally occur in many of the foods and drinks we consume, including teas and coffee. They offer several health benefits, including their role as antioxidants, which can combat cell damage, as well as their effects on reducing inflammation and helping to fight cancer. Green and black teas are rich in polyphenols and offers a number of other health benefits.
How UIC Researchers Are Using Green Tea And Machine Learning To Fight Oral Cancer
Cranberries and Raisins (Fresh or Sugar Free)
Cranberries are also rich in polyphenols (just like tea) and provide antioxidant benefits. Fresh cranberries are especially effective at disrupting the process of plaque formation. Just be aware that some packaged dried cranberries contain a lot of added sugar that isn't so good for teeth.
There is a long-held perception that raisins promote cavities. However, one study suggests that compounds in raisins may actually fight tooth decay. Phytochemicals are antioxidants found in plants. One of the five phytochemicals the study identified in raisins is oleanolic acid. In the study, oleanolic acid inhibited the growth of two species of oral bacteria: Streptococcus mutans, which causes cavities, and Porphyromonas gingivalis, which causes periodontal disease.
Chemicals called phytochemicals such as oleanolic acid in raisins suppress the growth of oral bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease, according to the study. "Phytochemicals in raisins may benefit oral health by fighting bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease,” says Dr. Christine D. Wu, lead author of the study.
Functional Foods Research at UIC
For more than two decades, Dr. Wu’s lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Dentistry has focused on the exploration and identification of plant-derived anti-plaque and anti-biofilm compounds against oral pathogens. In recent years, her laboratory has been engaged in clinical and translational studies to evaluate the oral health benefits of specific foods and beverages, especially dietary plant polyphenols (catechins and proanthocynandins) including teas, raisins, cranberries and dried plums. She is an advocate of and promotes functional foods and beverages for oral health.
Watch Video: Functional Foods Research for Good Oral Health
Strawberries - and Other Vitamin C Rich Berries
We all know that vitamin C is good for the body because of its antioxidant properties and for growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. This also true for teeth. The collagen in the dentin of teeth depends on vitamin C for maintaining its strength and structure through synthesis.
Strawberries are packed with Vitamin C, antioxidants and also malic acid, which could even naturally whiten your teeth. Be sure your diet includes fresh fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C, such as apples, pears, strawberries, pineapples, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, and cucumbers.
Maybe you’re not a fan of broccoli, but consider that fresh broccoli not only offer tons of vitamin C and K—important for bone health and proper blood clotting—they are also natural teeth cleaners!
Kiwis are another one of the fruits that offer a really high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin C boosts immunity by increasing the production of blood cells that destroy foreign micro-organisms. These effects lead to improved resistance against infections throughout the body, including tooth decay.
Sweet potatoes pack a healthy dose of vitamin A, which helps to maintain the mucous membranes and soft tissue of the gums. The vitamin is also vital in maintaining the protein keratin, an agent that promotes formation of tooth enamel. Of course, you may want to skip the marshmallow topping for this one.
Garlic and Onions
Okay, maybe garlic isn’t a go-to for fresh breath. However, the allicin that is contained in garlic has strong antimicrobial properties, which can help fight tooth decay and especially periodontal disease.
Again, maybe not the first choice for fresh breath. When eaten raw, onions have powerful antibacterial properties especially against some of the bacteria that causes cavities and gum disease.
While it’s true that simple carbohydrates can stick to your teeth and contribute to the formation of cavities, that’s not the case for whole grains. Whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and other whole grains are healthier choices because they have complex carbohydrates which give bacteria less digestible food for them to grow. Plus, they offer plenty of other nutrients that actively help your teeth and gums to stay healthy.
These mushrooms pack a bold flavor, and offer anti-microbial properties for fighting tooth decay. Researchers from the Pediatric Caries Research Program – School of Dentistry found that shitake mushrooms contain a poly-saccharide called lentinan, which prevents the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
Healthy Balance is the Key
As with good overall health, maintaining good dental health, means eating a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups, and drinking plenty of fluoridated water.
Timing is Important
A diet that promotes good oral health is not just about the foods you eat or avoid — when and how you eat them is equally important. One way to protect your teeth is by eating raw foods at the end of meals. Such foods help clean teeth and massage gums, and generate more saliva to wash away extra food particles left after a meal.
According to Dr. Wu, “Food sequencing, or the order in which you consume food and beverages, is important and may help to prevent tooth decay. Try eating acid neutralizing foods after a sweet meal or desert will prevent prolonged acid attacks to your teeth and therefore help prevent cavities. The best examples are milk, unsweetened tea or cheese."
Also, be sure to drink plenty of water during and after meals to help wash away sugars and acids left from snacks and meals - especially in these hot summer months!
Try a More Healthy Snack
Instead of snacking on sugary, carbohydrate-rich or acidic foods throughout the day, eat these foods just during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time teeth are exposed to acid. In addition, the body produces more saliva to help digest larger meals, which washes away more food and helps neutralize harmful acids before they can attack teeth. Try to eat some raw veggies as a daily snack after a larger meal to help clean your teeth.
If you like to snack, choose something that is healthy like fruit or vegetables or a piece of cheese. Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm to teeth than eating lots of snacks throughout the day, because more saliva is released during a meal.
Here’s to healthy eating for healthy teeth!
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Dentistry
We provide comprehensive, personalized and preventive dental care and education - for the whole family - to protect and improve oral health.
Through regular examination, cleanings and preventative treatments, our goal is to develop a comprehensive treatment plan to resolve dental issues in the early stages. We provide a wide range of general dental treatments for the whole family.
More about our comprehensive general family dental care services in Chicago