We’ve all heard what we shouldn’t be eating to promote oral health – sugar, fizzy drinks, sweets, coffee, red wine – the list goes on. Sometimes it might seem that just about everything (or at least everything remotely enjoyable) is off the cards if you want to live a life religiously devoted to oral health. But who ever touches on what you should be eating? Is there such a thing as foods that improve your oral health?
The good news is such foods do exist, and they’re not all unpleasant, either. Here’s a list of 10 foods that’ll help, rather than hinder, your oral health:
Foods like apples and celery are proven to help clean plaque from your teeth and freshen your breath. Fruits like apples might be sweet, and we’ve all been warned to steer clear of sugar, but they also have a high fibre and water content. This fibrous texture can stimulate your gums, and the mere action of eating the apple stimulates saliva production, which can rinse away food particles and bacteria. Celery has the additional bonus of being an excellent source of vitamins A and C, both of which are antioxidants that promote gum health. Carrots are just the same, and also contain calcium and keratins, which are fantastic for your oral health. Of course, eating these isn’t the same as brushing your teeth, but every little helps.
It’s no surprise that leafy greens are healthy. Healthcare professionals have been shouting this from the rooftops for years. But perhaps you didn’t know quite how good they are for your teeth. They’re packed full of vitamins and minerals, for one thing, but greens like kale and spinach are also surprisingly high in calcium, which is great for your enamel. What’s more, folic acid, which is found in leafy greens, has numerous health benefits (especially for pregnant women!) and the Centre for Dentistry reports that it can help prevent gum disease. It can also promote cell growth throughout the entire body. If you’re not a lover of leaves, you can try some more innovative ways of getting them into your diet – kale on a pizza is still kale, and spinach blended into a smoothie is unnoticeable and just as beneficial.
Your cheese board isn’t all bad news – cheese has many health benefits for your mouth. The obvious one is calcium, which will strengthen your teeth, but did you know cheese also helps balance the pH level in your mouth, thus protecting your teeth from acid damage? A study published in the May/June 2013 issue of General Dentistry found as much, and that eating cheese lowered the subjects’ risk of tooth decay. Milk has a similar effect. And if you don’t like milk or cheese, adding powdered milk to cooked dishes is a good alternative to spare you the flavour but earn you the benefits.
Like cheese, yoghurt is full of calcium, making it a clear choice for strengthening enamel. But yoghurt also contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that will crowd out the bad bacteria that cause cavities, thus benefiting your teeth and gums. Careful, though, because not all yoghurts are made equal – try and opt for something natural and low in sugar.
You might not know that strawberries contain something called malic acid, which, believe it or not, is a good natural whitener for enamel, and can help keep teeth stain-free.
Almonds contain plenty of protein and calcium whilst also being low-sugar, making them great for maintaining a healthy mouth, and they’re a great on-the-go snack. Don’t like them by themselves? Have them in a salad or stir-fry. You can even have them on dessert – though we admit this may negate some of the benefits!
Perhaps a slightly more controversial item than the others mentioned, but did you know raw onion is, in fact, incredibly healthy for you? Moreover, the antibacterial sulphur compounds contained in them (which are also responsible for making you cry) kill harmful bacteria on your teeth. We don’t recommend this if you’re about to go on a date, however.
Salmon is full of calcium and lean protein, and also full of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for oral health, because it plays a role in helping your body better absorb and metabolise calcium, and put it to use in the body. Salmon, along with other types of fish, also contains phosphorus, which is good for promoting strong teeth.
These, admittedly, come with the caveat that tea is known to stain teeth, but when balanced against their benefits for oral health the staining is superficial. Both types of tea contain polyphenols, which interact with plaque bacteria and either kill it entirely or hold it back. This prevents it from growing or producing harmful acid. Bonus: depending on the type of water you’re using to brew your tea (fluoridated or unfluoridated) your cuppa could also be a source of beneficial fluoride.
Okay, maybe it’s not quite a food – in the sense that you really ought not to be swallowing it – but the adverts you’re probably used to seeing aren’t lying when they claim chewing gum is beneficial for your teeth, provided you’re going for the sugar-free option. Chewing increases saliva production, which in turn helps rinse off harmful acids.
But its not only about the food you eat – timing is crucial too. Foods that take you a long time to chew, or that you hold in your mouth for some while (e.g. a lozenge) can have a harmful effect on the teeth as they retain sugar in the mouth for longer than other foods.
You should also try to minimise snacking between meal times, and if you do need a snack opt for something healthier and less sugary. It’s better to organise your intake into structured meals, as during larger meals the body produces more saliva to aid digestion, which washes away more food and helps neutralise acids in the mouth before they can harm your teeth.
We hope this comes as a not-too-restrictive list of foods you can turn to for the sake of your oral health, but it’s important to stress that this isn’t an exhaustive list, and that at the end of the day, balanced is best.
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