How to Eat Your Way to a Better Smile
June 21, 2017
By Kristina Reed
Nothing like dull, yellow teeth to damage a first impression. Or a toothache to ruin a promising day.
We all want nicer smiles and healthier teeth, but may not be aware of the daily habits that are impacting our oral health.
Our food and drink choices, and even how often we snack, have a huge impact on those pearly whites. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the food that you eat can affect your teeth and gums long after eating it. Thankfully, much of this damage can be avoided by maintaining good dental hygiene, avoiding certain foods, and eating others.
Let’s talk tooth decay
Tooth decay is also known as dental cavities or dental caries. It is exactly what it sounds like - the outer surface of your tooth (the enamel) decays or breaks down. This leads to pain, problems eating, discoloration, and even infection. It happens when plaque comes into contact with sugar in the mouth, causing acid to attack the teeth. Thankfully, tooth decay is entirely preventable. By practicing good dental hygiene, avoiding certain foods and snacking habits, and emphasizing others, you can kiss tooth decay goodbye.
Foods and drinks to AVOID:
- Hard candies: These culprits are not only full of sugar but can also trigger a dental emergency like a chipped tooth.
- Chewing on ice: This may seem innocent - It’s only water right? In reality, chewing on ice makes us vulnerable to dental emergencies and damages enamel. Ouch.
- Excessive citrus: Acidic foods can erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay. Citric fruits and juices can also irritate mouth sores. Try drinking orange juice and lemonade with a straw to avoid contact with your teeth.
- Caffeinated drinks: Not only do coffee and tea stain the teeth, but the added sugar also contributes to tooth decay.
- Sticky foods: The longer food sticks to your teeth, the higher your chances of tooth decay. Make sure to rinse with water and brush and floss carefully after.
- Crunchy foods: While chips are satisfying, they are also filled with starch, which tends to get trapped in teeth.
- Soda: Most carbonated soft drinks are acidic and bad for teeth. Sipping also causes a constant sugar bath over teeth.
- Alcohol: Overuse causes dehydration and dry mouth; reduced saliva flow leads to tooth decay and other oral infections such as gum disease. Frequent alcohol consumption also increases the risk for mouth cancer.
Foods and drinks to ENJOY:
- Water: Drink fluoridated water to make teeth more resistant to cavity-causing acid attacks. Also, consistently drinking water helps to flush away food particles and prevent the buildup of bacteria, keeping your smile squeaky clean.
- Dairy: Milk, and other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are low in sugar, which is good for dental health. Dairy products contain protein and are full of calcium, which can help strengthen teeth. Cheese may actually counter tooth decay by neutralizing acid in the mouth. Just another reason to “say cheese”!
- Lean proteins: Phosphorous-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs help to strengthen your teeth and contain valuable protein.
- Fruits and veggies: These staples are high in water and fiber, which balance the sugars they contain and help clean teeth. Chewing also helps stimulate saliva production, which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth. Most fruits and veggies contain vitamin C (important for healthy gums and quick healing of wounds) and vitamin A (key nutrient in building tooth enamel).
- Nuts: Protein and minerals are important for overall health. Nuts that are low in carbohydrates don’t add to your risk of cavities. Peanuts have been shown to neutralize acid in the mouth as well. Chewing stimulates saliva production, lowering risk of decay.
- Sugar-free gum: This is a great way to combat the inevitable urge to snack and clean the mouth.
Every time we eat, we are making choices about our future health. Being mindful of what and how we eat feels great both in the moment and years down the road. However, don’t just leave your oral health in your own hands. Make sure to schedule dental check-ups at least twice a year so that dental professionals can catch anything serious before it progresses. Other free or low-cost alternatives include federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), community health fairs, mobile dental units, and more. The staff at Catalyst Miami can help you navigate these resources. Invest in forming good habits now - you’ll thank yourself later.