What to Eat — and NOT to Eat — to Improve Oral Health
Eating right can improve your oral health as well as your overall well-being. Your mouth is sensitive, and proper nutrition sets the foundation for optimal dental health.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend that we eat a wide variety of nutritious foods each day, consisting mainly of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and other protein sources. Fats, added sugars and sodium should be limited.
But did you know that by following a few additional dietary guidelines, you can help minimize cavity-causing bacterial plaque in your mouth?
The Best Food Choices to Improve Oral Health
Oral surgeons and dental experts advise limiting between-meal snacking, as it increases the time your teeth are exposed to acids that attack the tooth enamel. At the same time, many physicians recommend eating smaller, more frequent mini-meals throughout the day.
When you need to have a snack or mini-meal, go for a glass of milk, a handful of nuts, cheese, grilled or baked chicken or another lean meat. These foods help protect against tooth decay by providing calcium and phosphorous, both of which help strengthen and remineralize tooth enamel.
Firm and crunchy fruits and vegetables are also good choices to boost oral health. Apples, pears, carrots and sweet bell peppers contain natural sugars, but they also have a high water content. This dilutes the effect of the sugars and stimulates the flow of saliva to keep tooth damage at bay.
The Worst Food Choices for Teeth
Eating foods high in sugars — particularly those that stick to or get caught between the teeth — are the most damaging to your oral health.
Consequently, it’s important to limit how often you and your family members indulge in candy, cookies, cakes, muffins and dried fruits. You might be surprised to know that salty snacks (like chips, pretzels and crackers) are almost as harmful as sweets. The enzymes in saliva break down these simple carbohydrates, converting them to simple sugars — just like the kind found in candy. Plus, tiny, sharp bits of salty snacks can become lodged in the gums, causing irritation and trauma to the tissues.
Acidic foods, including citrus fruits and tomatoes, can increase the acid production in your mouth, damaging your tooth enamel. To avoid decay, enjoy these foods as part of a larger meal, rather than a stand-alone snack.
Skipping a snack in favor of sucking on a mint or hard candy is also a poor choice for your oral health, as the sugars they contain can increase bacterial plaque and decay.
The Truth About Oral Health and Beverages
What you drink throughout the day can also affect your oral health. Tap water is the best choice, as it contains fluoride, a natural cavity-fighter. Milk and unsweetened tea are other options that help make for strong, healthy teeth.
Drinks that contain sugar significantly increase the risk of tooth decay. Avoid soda, which also contains harmful levels of enamel-destroying phosphoric acid. Limit your consumption of fruit juices, cocoa, lemonade and coffee or tea with added sugar. When you do enjoy these beverages, do so alongside a meal or with a glass of water to dilute their effect on your tooth enamel.
Brush and floss after eating to optimize your oral health, or if that’s not possible, chew a piece of sugarless gum. One word of warning: If you’ve had an acidic snack, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you avoid brushing for 30 minutes, or you can damage your tooth enamel.
At Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, your family’s oral health is always our primary concern. Contact our Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan or Tooele office today to schedule an appointment.
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