We all know what the “best and worst” foods and drinks are for our body — but what about for our teeth? Along with preventative oral health care that includes brushing, flossing and regular visits to our dentist, making healthy choices about our diet also leads to happier and healthier teeth.
But how do the foods we eat and the beverages we drink impact our teeth? Well, it seems that the changes in our mouth start the moment we eat certain foods. Bacteria in the mouth convert sugars and carbohydrates from the foods we eat to acids — and it’s the acids that begin to attack the enamel on teeth, starting the decay process.
Dr. Jeffrey Rappaport, a general dentist and co-founder of Afora, a membership dental care plan in New York City, sees his fair share of patients who are not aware of the importance of their dietary choices when it comes to their teeth and oral health. He makes it a point to educate his patients on better choices.
He shared his list of best and worst foods and drinks for the teeth with LifeZette. He explained that it really does matter what we expose our teeth to — and how we treat them — over the long run.
The worst foods and drinks for our teeth. Unfortunately, all of the goodies we like to indulge in are on the naughty list. The most obvious culprits for our teeth are chewy candies, soft drinks, carbohydrates, corn on the cob — and popcorn.
Aside from the obvious soda and candy, other foods can seriously interfere with dental hygiene. Here are more specifics on some of them.
Popcorn. Popcorn with its thin slippery shells can easily get caught between the teeth and under the gums. Even the best flossers have difficulty removing them. If left alone, they can cause swollen, irritated gums.
Sports and energy drinks. Sports and energy drinks are loaded with sneaky sugars and are highly acidic. They do rehydrate post-workout, but if part of a regular routine could cause damage to enamel and dentin. Follow up with a glass of regular H2O to rinse the teeth.
Ice. Ice can cause chipped teeth or chipped dental work. Anything hard that isn’t meant to be chewed — here’s looking at you, mints and cough drops — are potentially dangerous to the teeth.
The best foods and drinks for our teeth. There are a number of foods worth calling out for this esteemed list.
Hard cheeses and dairy products. Calcium-rich foods are vital for strong bones and teeth — and that includes the jaw. Cheeses also contain casein, a protein that, when it interacts with calcium, helps to repair enamel. A glass of milk (but not chocolate milk!) helps lower the levels of acid in the mouth.
High-fiber foods. Foods high in fiber with a lot of chewing stimulate salivary production. For example, strawberries contain malic acid — which is a natural tooth whitener. And crunchy foods requiring a lot of chewing such as apples, cucumbers and carrots help clear bacteria out of the mouth.
Vitamin-rich foods. Foods such as almonds and leafy greens, as well as foods high in phosphorous, such as meat, eggs and fish, can help keep tooth enamel strong and healthy, according to the American Dental Association.
Sugarless gum. Sugarless gum stimulates salivary production — which washes away food debris after eating, taking with it harmful bacteria and acids.
Sara Lindberg is a wife, mother of two, secondary school counselor, and writer based in Washington State.