When it comes to the health of your teeth, you really are what you eat!
One of the first areas to decline when your diet is less than ideal is your oral health. We’ve been told growing up that sugary food and drinks can give us cavities and brushing regularly helps to keep our teeth clean and healthy. But do you know exactly which foods could ruin your teeth and which could keep them sparkling clean and fresh?
Too often we see food as being the only villain when it comes to our dental health. After all, it’s the sugars and acids from food and drinks that do the most harm to our teeth. However, there are so many different types of foods that not only don’t harm your pearly whites but can even give a boost to your oral health. From preventing cavities to even freshening your breath and whitening your teeth, some of the foods on this list could change your teeth health altogether. So what do the professionals recommend? Dr Peter Alldritt gives us the lowdown on which foods we should be eating more of and which ones we should be walking away from to help keep a healthy smile.
Dr Peter Alldritt: Dentist and Chair of the Oral Health Committee, Australian Dental Association
A healthy mouth, a healthy life
A healthy mouth is essential to our general health and well-being at every stage of life. Tooth loss is directly associated with a poor diet and nutrition, which can also compromise general health and worsen existing health conditions. Poor oral health can also affect a person cosmetically, reducing their confidence and self-esteem.
Consumption of sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis is the number one cause of tooth decay. Every time we eat, our teeth are exposed to an acid attack. The acid attack comes from the bacteria in our mouths fermenting the food we eat to make acid, and if our teeth are exposed to this acid long enough tooth decay will develop.
What foods to avoid
Tooth decay is caused by how frequently we snack and how long you are exposed to food at any one time. This doesn’t mean just lollies and soft drinks; this includes foods that are high in natural sugars or starch like cereals, potato chips, biscuits and dried fruit.
Foods such as citrus fruit have high acid levels; frequent exposure can erode tooth enamel. This can lead to exposure of the inner tooth layer, causing pain and sensitivity, and accelerating tooth decay.
The recommended daily intake of fruit is two serves per day. Frequent exposure to acidic foods like oranges and lemons can erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay over time. If you enjoy acidic food or drinks remember to rinse your mouth with tap water after eating or drinking and chew sugar-free gum.
Also, when choosing a ‘healthy snack’ many people will opt for dried fruit. However dried fruit can damage your teeth since it tends to eat stuck in the grooves and stay on the teeth longer than other types of food. If you find yourself eating dried fruits or trail mix often, make sure to rinse with water after.
Fruit roll ups are often assumed to be a healthy snack but their high sugar content and sticky texture makes them dangerous for teeth.
The sugar content of muesli bars and breakfast cereals is often surprisingly high, making them a less healthy option than we often think. Always check the labelling on these types of products to see just how much sugar they contain.
We all know that soft drinks are high in sugar and acid, creating high risk of damage to teeth. However, people are often surprised to learn that drinks like fruit juices, sports drinks and energy drinks are not as healthy as they seem. They can contain the same high levels of sugar and acid that are found in soft drinks, making them a dental enemy.
Stick to water as your primary source of hydration.
So what foods help?
Cheese is one of the healthiest snacks for your teeth and it stimulates your salvia and neutralises acids. Milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium, phosphorus and the protein casein – nutrients which have been shown to protect tooth enamel.
Vegetables such as carrots and celery contain lots of water and require lots of chewing, so they’re good for our teeth, because they stimulate the flow of saliva. Saliva also helps neutralise the acid present in other foods.
If you want to snack remember to choose something that is healthy like fruit or vegetables or a piece of cheese. Foods that are eaten as part of a meal cause less harm to teeth than eating lots of snacks throughout the day, because more saliva is released during a meal. Saliva helps wash foods from the mouth and lessens the effects of acids, which can harm teeth and cause decay.
Limiting the number of snacks you eat during the day will reduce the number of acid attacks your teeth have to suffer.
How can people maintain good oral health?
- Visit your dentist regularly for a check-up, your dentist can identify any problems early on and provide you with advice to prevent dental disease.
- Brush twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste.
- Clean in between your teeth at least once a day using interdental brushes or floss.
- Choose water as your primary source of hydration, preferably tap water which also gives you the benefits of fluoride
- Avoid snacking and grazing, try to only have sugary foods and drinks at meal times, reducing the time your teeth come under attack.
- Chew sugar free gum after eating and drinking to stimulate saliva flow to help neutralise acid.
- After consuming anything acidic, always wait an hour before brushing your teeth. This allows time for your saliva to neutralise the acid and for your tooth enamel to harden. Brushing too soon can risk abrasion and damage to the enamel, which has been softened by the acidic food or beverage.
It feels great to munch on our favourite foods but we have to remember what our dentist has taught us! Even after eating the healthy snacks recommended, it’s still a good idea to clean the remaining food particles, sugars and acids. Oral health is vitally important to maintain so grab that dairy and veg and get your teeth sparkling.