Food that will keep your smile bright

With our focus on holistic health at Loock Dental, we like to advise our patients on how their dental health impacts their overall well-being and how factors like diet can affect dental health. In this post, we focus on how some food and drinks can actually help clean your teeth, while others can stain or damage tooth enamel. According to the American Dental Association, oral and dental health are sometimes the first to decline when you have a poor diet. Luckily, here in the Cape Town and Parow areas, we have apple access to healthy fresh food. We might just have to go a bit easier on the wine and coffee, as you will see!

Keeping your tooth enamel clean and bright is not only about the beauty of your smile. Your tooth enamel is also the hard layer that protects the insides of your teeth from decay. Dark or even obviously opaque white marks on your teeth are usually signs of tooth decay and require a visit to your dentist to examine and repair as quickly as possible. Once tooth decay has set in, your chances of needing more serious treatments, such as root canals are more likely.

Food and drinks that clean and strengthen your teeth

Water remains one of the healthiest drinks for your teeth, particularly if it has fluoride in it, as fluoride strengthens tooth enamel in children up to 12 years old. Protein is also an important tooth strengthener for children, and is found in lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as in vegetables such as beans and lentils.

Fruits and vegetables contain lots of vitamins and minerals that boost your immune system, which  is also good for your oral health. An important example is Vitamin C, which fights infection everywhere in your body, including your gums. Another obvious example is calcium, which strengthens children’s teeth from the inside. Leafy green vegetables and broccoli are high in calcium.

Fruits and vegetables do contain natural sugars, but the fibre and water they contain help clean teeth and wash away sugars and bacteria. As they are firm or fibrous, fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots and celery can also help to clean your teeth by disturbing plaque and rubbing off bacteria.

Loock Dental are sometimes asked about natural tooth-whitening treatments trending on social media. It is a good idea to run these past your dentist before you start experimenting. For example, do strawberries and other fruits and vegetables containing malic acid whiten your tooth enamel naturally, as some have claimed? Unfortunately, these claims have not been backed by scientific research.

The fruits concerned may make teeth feel cleaner and look slightly whiter as the teeth have been superficially cleaned, but the ‘treatments’ prescribed do not penetrate the enamel in ways that would improve stains (which are in the enamel itself, not simply on the surface). In fact, if you were to ‘soak’ your teeth for long enough in something like malic acid, you would be more likely to cause corrosion of the enamel than improve its appearance.

All naturally chewy food, such as nuts (which also contain protein) are helpful in stimulating saliva production, which helps keep your teeth clean naturally.

. Some nuts, such as almonds, are also rich in teeth-strengthening calcium.

According to some research, while acidic foods may cause tiny scratches on the surface of your teeth, foods containing calcium and phosphorus deposit minerals that fill in those scratches, potentially repairing and protecting your teeth. Food such as cheese, almonds and leafy greens are rich in calcium, while meat, eggs and fish are high in both protein and phosphorous.

Interestingly, a study published in the General Dentistry journal showed that in a group of 12-15-year-olds, those who ate cheddar cheese ended up with lower levels of acid in their mouths, while the acidity levels of those who ate sugar-free yoghurt or drank a glass of milk remained unchanged. This suggests that cheese has cavity-protection qualities. Calcium in all food types is also good for bones, including your jaw, which is another piece in the puzzle of your dental health.

Food such as cranberries and drinks like green and black tea, contain polyphenols, which evidence suggests helps to prevent plaque from sticking to teeth in the first place.

Food and drinks that damage your teeth

Refined sugar is bad for your teeth because it is simply adored by tooth-decaying bacteria and so best avoided in the diet as far as possible.  However, not everything marketed as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ is good for your health or teeth either. Sticky fruit snacks like fruit gums and fruit leather, even if touted as ‘natural’ and ‘sugar free’ are processed and actually very high in fruit sugars, and because these snacks are so sticky, they cling to teeth longer and can lead to tooth decay.

Crackers and potato chips are sometimes described as ‘cookies with salt’ because while they are sugar-free, refined carbohydrates tend to break down quickly into sugars, and they get easily lodged in between your teeth, creating a breeding ground for tooth-decaying bacteria.

Hard sweets, such as lollipops and boiled sweets, not only leave sugar dangerously long in your mouth if you suck them, but also pose a risk of chipping teeth if you take a bite. Fizzy drinks such as coke and sprite, not only contain a lot of sugar, they are also often highly acidic, which is bad for your teeth. What many don’t realise is that quite a lot of fruit juices are also high in sugar and acid (such as orange juice). You should also watch out for sports or energy drinks, as these can often be high in sugar, and corrosive citric acid is also sometimes used as a flavouring.

Coffee and tea are enamel stainers, and if you drink them with added sugar, you are increasing the damage to your teeth. However, see the point above about black tea, which can have some benefits for your teeth, if unsweetened.

Alcohol such as wine and beer are surprisingly high in sugar, are often acidic, and can lead to a dry mouth, which means a less clean mouth and potential tooth decay over time. Drink plenty of water if you are drinking alcohol, and try not to drink it too often.

As you can see, the take-home message from your dentist for a healthy diet is unlikely to be all that different from your doctor’s or dietician’s, depending on your usual dietary requirements, allergies and so forth.  If you’ve had any interesting reactions or experiences with food and your oral health, feel free to add them to the comments.

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Marguerite MacRobert

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