The secret to a beautiful smile and fewer visits to the dentist is a diet that’s kind to your teeth. Here are the tooth heroes and villains you need to know about.
What you munch, crunch, chew and drink during the day can either harm your teeth or make them stronger. We look at the goodies and baddies when it comes to a gleaming white, healthy and strong set of teeth!
High-fibre veggies Foods like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage ‘scrub’ the surface of your teeth and get your saliva flowing, which neutralises acids that can eat away at teeth. They also contain calcium and phosphates, which help to rebuild minerals that acids can strip away. Crunchy, juicy veg like carrots, cucumber, celery and peppers also have a high-water content to offset sugars.
Dairy products Cheese is packed with calcium, which helps replace minerals leached from the teeth and it also gets tooth-protecting saliva flowing. Milk and yogurt provide calcium and contain very little acid, and they provide phosphates, which restore and enhance the smoothness and lustre of teeth. Enriched milk also provides Vitamin D, which helps calcium work its magic.
Vitamin C-rich grub If you lack vitamin C in your diet, it takes its toll on your gums and can make them bleed. Vitamin C also helps the body maintain and repair bones and teeth. Eating oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwis, sweet potatoes, carrots and peppers will up your dose. Eat the fruits and vegetables whole, rather than in juices and smoothies to sidestep cavity-causing sugar.
Xylitol It’s used in sugar-free gum and it’s another easy way to stimulate saliva, remove food particles from your mouth and scrub teeth clean. Better still, this natural sweetener derived from woody plants works against the bacteria that causes tooth decay. It’s not just in gum, you can buy it in health shops to use as a sugar alternative in baking.
Tea Super healthy green tea is good for teeth, but so too is black tea because they both contain compounds called polyphenols. These either kill or suppress the bacteria that cause plaque, so they can’t grow or produce tooth-attacking acid. A dash of milk in your cuppa will add a touch of calcium, too.
Meat, fish and tofu
Meat, tofu and oily fish like salmon and mackerel all contain phosphorus, which protects tooth enamel. Combine that with vitamins A (which helps form and maintain tooth enamel), C and D and you get even more benefit for your mouth – you can get it via beef, fish, tofu, and poultry. If you’re vegetarian, go for leafy green vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Nuts We all know they’re a healthy desk drawer snacking staple, but they are also stuffed with vitamins and minerals that your teeth will love. Peanuts boast calcium and vitamin D, while almonds are high in calcium. Cashews get saliva flowing, while walnuts contain a heady mix of fibre, iron, magnesium and folic acid, which helps repair the damaged cells in your gum tissue. They also pack in niacin, which helps prevent receding gums; and zinc, which fights against the growth of bacteria and plaque. Nice.
Top tip! Give your teeth an even bigger boost by using Oral-B electric toothbrushes every day – which will help keep your teeth strong alongside a healthy diet.
Fizzy drinks We all know that soft drinks are a major cause of tooth decay, but diet drinks wreak havoc, too. Artificially sweetened drinks contain tooth-eroding phosphoric and citric acids. Sports drinks can be particularly acidic and sugary and flavoured or vitamin waters can contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar. Also, because you tend to sip a fizzy drink over a long period, the teeth are exposed to that acid for an extended time. Drinks that dry out your mouth – like alcohol – are bad news too, because you need a flow of saliva to keep your teeth safe and protected.
Sticky and chewy foods Not just bags of chewy sweets and toffees, but natural sweet foods like raisins, dried fruits and healthy bars made of mushed up dried fruits often cause decay because they get wedged between teeth and saliva can’t wash them away. That means teeth are continually exposed to the sugar. The sugars of fresh fruit get concentrated when the water is dried out, and they also contain non-soluble cellulose fibre, which can bind and trap sugars on and around teeth.
Starchy carbs Think white bread, crisps, chips and al dente pasta – they can easily get lodged between teeth. While we think of them as savoury, the starches convert into sugar very quickly, so if they’ve taken up residence next to your tooth, it will be under attack until you brush it away.
Citrus fruits Oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes contain a citric acid so punchy it’s often used in cleaning products. They are, of course, healthy but should be eaten as part of a meal, and you should rinse your mouth afterwards. The same applies to hot water and a wedge of lemon – it’s often recommended as part of healthy detoxes, but it fills your mouth with enamel-softening acid, so you need to brush it away.
Pickles Mixing vegetables with vinegar makes your teeth very unhappy because it creates a potent combination of acidic vinegar and sugar – a recipe for eroded enamel. If you love a pickle, again make sure it’s eaten alongside a meal.
Coffee and red wine Hello, stains! The tannins in coffee wear down enamel and can stain your teeth a not-too-pleasant brown colour. Similarly, while a glass of red wine has plenty of health benefits, it can turn your teeth from glowing white, to unappealing purple. The acids in wine (white and rose too) can attack the surface of your teeth, letting those stains set in more easily.
Chewable vitamins whether it’s a multivitamin or a big chewable vitamin C tablet, they often contain concentrated acids that hang about between teeth. You should get all the vitamins you need from a varied, colourful diet, so save your teeth the bother and ditch the supplements.