10 Foods and Beverages for Improved Dental Health

10 Foods and Beverages for Improved Dental Health

In these times of heightened connectivity through the web and social media, and information that is easily accessible most people understand the link between proper nutrition and preventing disease.

They understand that whatever they nourish their bodies with exhibits itself in the health of the body.

However, not much focus is placed on the effects of nutrition on dental health- how what we eat, or drink disturbs our oral health.

A diet full of carbohydrates and sugars will promote plaque formation and be the first step down the road of poor oral health and subsequent poor general health since the state of our oral health largely influences the rest of the body.

Proper nutrition will deliver all the necessary nutrients for good, healthy teeth and gums. It can help prevent gum disease, tooth cavities or even bone loss from the jaws.

Below is a basic list of food groups and drinks that can improve the health of your mouth:

1. Water– plain drinking water is key to maintaining good dental health. Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated. This helps with the production of saliva, as well.

A well hydrated mouth is able to flush out any harmful sugars and acid from food or drinks consumed. Sugars and acids from foods lead to plaque buildup and tooth cavities.

Most of our drinking water is also fortified with fluoride. This mineral is very important in protecting the enamel of teeth from erosion.

2. Calcium is important for strong teeth. It forms a part of the building blocks of tooth enamel. Strong enamel is resistant to chips, breaks and decay.

Dietary calcium can be obtained from dairy sources such as milk and cheese. Dairy products contain a protein called casein that helps to counteract the acids in the mouth formed by bacteria.

These acids when left unchecked are corrosive to teeth and gums causing inflammation and gum disease.

Additionally, drinking milk after indulging your sweet tooth will help neutralize the acid formed by bacteria thus protecting teeth.

Drink a glass of milk daily or snack on cheese or yogurt for your daily fix of calcium.

3. High fiber foods generally require a lot of chewing which helps keep the teeth surfaces free of food debris.

Chewing is the very first step in digestion and therefore chewing your food thoroughly is necessary for not only starting the breakdown of the food but also mixing it with saliva so that it forms a ball (bolus) which can then be swallowed easily to enter the stomach.

All that chewing stimulates saliva production and the food particles are able to scrub the tooth surfaces clean.

4. Fresh fruits and vegetables are important for a healthy body and mouth.

Some berries, like strawberries contain a natural tooth whitener, called malic acid. Leafy greens like spinach, citrus fruits and kale contain vitamin C, in addition to numerous other nutrients.

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is crucial in controlling inflammation in the body. Taking sufficient quantities of this vitamin will keep your mouth free from inflammation and gum disease.

Eat spinach, citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli and potatoes for your daily recommended allowance of this essential vitamin.

Sailors in the past suffered from a disease called scurvy which was caused by a vitamin C deficiency due a lack of fresh fruit and veggies. These sailors suffered severe gum disease and tooth loss amongst other serious medical conditions.

Not only do crunchy, fresh fruits and veggies deliver all the macro-and micro- nutrients to the body for optimum health, they also do double duty as teeth scrubbing agents as they’re being chewed.

This is because most fresh produce is also high in fibre and require the chewing action which helps keep the tooth surfaces clean.

Chewing also causes more saliva production and this helps wash away any bacteria and food particles in the mouth.

Eat plenty of crispy veggies like carrots, apples and celery to keep your teeth sparkling clean and healthy.

5. Teas, both black and green tea varieties, contain compounds called polyphenols that keep oral bacteria in check.

A study conducted in the US found that participants who used black tea as a mouthwash ten times a day for the duration of one minute had less plaque deposits than the control group who had only used plain water as a mouthwash.

It is believed that the polyphenols prevent the aggregation of bacteria into larger clusters making it easier for the smaller clumps to be removed thus preventing the formation of plaque deposits.

One other benefit of decreased oral bacteria is not having halitosis or bad breath.

6. Cranberries are chockful of polyphenols, just like tea is.

Cranberries help decrease dental caries in the same manner that tea does.
Some other foods with a similar effect as cranberries are blueberries, raspberries and red cabbage.

7. Cheese, although it falls into the calcium and dairy category as well, actually decreases the acidity of the mouth.

This means that cheese neutralises the acids in the mouth thereby decreasing its corrosive effects on the teeth.

A study that was published in the journal General Dentistry showed a marked difference in oral pH in participants who ate cheese and rinsed their mouths with water versus participants who instead consumed milk or sugar-free yoghurt.

The first group showed a continuous drop in pH after consuming cheese and rinsing with water when measured whereas the control group who only had the milk or yoghurt showed no variation in pH.

Another way eating cheese can minimise the bacteria in the mouth is by increasing saliva production. More saliva in the mouth means more harmful bacteria is flushed away.

8. Sugar-free gum increases saliva production which decreases bacteria. Many selections of sugar-free gum contain xylitol, a sugar alternative.

This naturally-occurring compound has been studied extensively since its discovery and found to prevent bacteria sticking to the tooth surfaces. Furthermore, it does not change the pH of the mouth to acidic, rather it keeps the pH neutral.

A neutral pH will also prevent minerals from leaching out of the tooth enamel creating weak spots.
This two-fold tactic makes xylitol ideal for preventing tooth cavities.

Foods containing regular sucrose feed bacteria making them multiply and the excess acid the bacteria produce then lead to tooth decay. Bacteria are unable to use xylitol as fuel and can therefore not multiply, as in the case of sucrose.

Less bacterial growth means less change in oral pH.

Another benefit of xylitol is its effect on saliva and its pH. When saliva is at a higher pH (i.e. more alkaline) calcium and phosphates contained in saliva are transferred to tooth enamel fortifying any weakened areas that are vulnerable to decay.

The result is hardened enamel that is able to withstand any cavities.

These claims are backed up by a study that was conducted in the 1980s. Both the test and control groups were given gum to chew a few times per day over a period of 40 months. The control group was given gum with regular sucrose whilst the test group was given gum with xylitol.

The results indicated 73% less cavities in the test group while the control group (with sucrose gum) had an increase of 120% in cavities.

9. Raisins make an excellent alternative sweetener. They also contain plaque-fighting compounds called phenols, that are able to decrease bacteria that form plaque.

Raisins also contain a host of vitamins important for good health. This makes raisins a delicious way to combat gum disease.

10. Phosphorus is an important nutrient found in eggs, dairy products, nuts, beans, meat and fish. Together with calcium, phosphorus forms an important defense against weakened tooth enamel caused by too much acid.

When adequate levels of phosphorus are consumed, any weak spots on tooth enamel can be hardened and repaired.

Whilst the above list is not complete, it gives you a good starting point when you go grocery shopping.
All of the items listed above have positive effects on your general health as well as your oral health.

However, the two are very intertwined- good general health means good oral health and poor oral hygiene and health have been closely linked with many types of inflammatory diseases in the body.

Proper nutrition will ensure you stay at a healthy weight avoiding obesity which has been linked directly to many chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease.

These diseases are all closely related to inflammation and gum disease caused by increased oxidant levels circulating in the bloodstream. Oxidants cause cell damage and fat cells also release compounds that cause inflammation.

Another important point to remember is to stick to good oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing between your teeth frequently and visiting your dentist regularly so that he can pick up any developing problems before they become full blown. No matter how healthy we eat, we still have to maintain good dental habits.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle to enjoy the benefits of good health and great oral health.

Author bio:

Dr. Nabil Mockbil received his DDS in 2001 from Umea University in Sweden, regarded as having the best dentist program in Sweden for undergraduates. He’s now the founder of Swedish Dental Clinic in Dubai