Good dental health is about more than just avoiding cavities; it also includes caring for the tissues, fibers, mineral-based surfaces, and bone that protect your teeth and hold them securely in your jaw. Just like every other structure in your body, your mouth needs the right amount of nutrition to stay strong and healthy. Good oral health requires whole, nutrient-dense foods that are low in sugar and starches. A general rule of thumb is to follow the USDA’s recommendation for nutritional guidance, which includes recommended amounts of dairy, protein, grains, and fruits and vegetables.
Nutrition and Dental Health
Poor nutrition affects nearly every aspect of your health, and this is especially true for children. Vitamin and protein deficiencies can lead to delayed tooth eruption, poor tooth formation, abnormal jaw bone development, bleeding gums, and periodontal disease, while excessive amounts of sugar and starch cause dental erosion and cavities.
Protein and Dental Health
In addition to calcium, certain fatty acids, and vitamins C and D, dietary protein may help your jaw and teeth function properly for a lifetime. Protein, which helps repair tissue and build bone, is an important component in bone mineral density, or BMD. Healthy BMD indicates that there is enough material in your bones to support your bodily structure and prevent fractures or breaks. Low levels of BMD are often correlated with osteoporosis. Because poor dental health is typically characterized by inflamed or weakened periodontal ligaments and bone loss or weakening in the jaw, which mimics the damage caused by osteoporosis, leading scientists to believe, there may be a link between BMD and poor dental health as well.
BMD can be improved with an increase in dietary protein intake, so more dietary protein may support the periodontal structure you need for good dental health. However, more important than increasing dietary protein is to consume a diet of healthy, whole foods that contain the other nutrients you need for oral health, specifically calcium and vitamin D.
What foods are good for your teeth?
Foods that are good for your teeth are, more often than not, good for your entire body. Foods high in calcium and other nutrients like low-fat cheese, fat-free or low-fat milk, plain yogurt, and leafy greens can all provide the nourishment you need for healthy teeth. Foods high in protein like eggs, fish, meat, and poultry can also help protect the enamel on your teeth and improve bone density.
Foods high in water content and fiber, like fruits and vegetables, not only stimulate saliva—which helps wash away food particles, neutralize acids, and prevent decay—but also help to balance out the sugar you may be consuming from other foods.
When it comes to beverages, your best option is always water, especially fluoridated water. Drinking fluoridated water helps repair your enamel, flushes away food particles from hard-to-reach places, and promotes saliva production, all of which keep your teeth clean and harmful bacteria at bay.
What foods are good for strengthening enamel?
Enamel is the thin, hard mineral coating that covers the teeth, protecting them from decay and the daily stress of chewing, biting, grinding, and crunching. Although enamel is one of the strongest and hardest materials in your body, it can become weakened, eroded, or destroyed by the acids and sugars in certain food and drinks and, once gone, cannot be regenerated.
However, even if you are experiencing some enamel erosion, some foods and habits can help you preserve and strengthen what you have.
- Green or black teas neutralize plaque-causing bacteria
- Sugar-free chewing gum helps promote saliva production
- Fruits and vegetables high in fiber
- Food or beverages with fluoride help repair eroded enamel
- Foods high in protein help promote stronger teeth
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products like milk and cheese
Vitamin C and other antioxidants found in fruit help neutralize the bacteria that clings to the surface of your teeth, waiting to create a cavity. Fruits high in these nutrients—like grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, cranberries, kiwis, and apples—can help promote better oral health.
Be mindful that highly acidic fruit like citrus fruits and tomatoes can erode enamel when eaten just by themselves, so be sure to eat them as part of a meal or cooked down to remove some of the acidity. Additionally, fresh fruits are always a better option than dried fruits, which can be sticky and contain a significant amount of sugar, salt, or other preservatives.
What can I eat to strengthen my teeth?
Teeth need a variety of nutrients and minerals to stay strong, including calcium, vitamins A, C, and D, protein, and phosphorus. These nutrients can come from foods like eggs, lean meat, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fish. Crunchy food like nuts and carrots can help strengthen your teeth as well but avoid crunching ice—that can break or crack the enamel on your teeth and lead to cavities.
What foods are bad for your teeth and why?
Food that contains a lot of sugar and not a lot of nutritional value—like candy, sweets, and even savory snack foods like crackers or chips—are among the worst foods for your dental health. The large amounts of sugars and carbohydrates in these foods stick to your teeth, providing a veritable feast for the harmful bacteria that cause plaque and cavities.
Sugary drinks like soda and juice should also be avoided. Unlike eating sugary foods, which allows sugar to stick to the surfaces of your teeth, sipping sugary drinks allows that sugar to wash over every part of the teeth and gums, including those hard-to-reach in-between spaces, increasing your risk of tooth decay and cavities.
Dental Health Beyond Your Diet
Your dental health is affected not just by what you eat and drink, but by when and how frequently you consume it.
Dietary habits and factors that may affect your likelihood of developing cavities or tooth decay include:
- The amount and frequency of foods you eat or beverages you drink that are highly sugary, starchy, or acidic
- The combinations of foods you consume and/or the order in which you eat them
- The texture and makeup of the food, such as whether or not it is solid, slow to dissolve, sticky, or liquid
- Any medical conditions like eating disorders or acid reflux that can weaken teeth and increase the risk of cavities
- Whether or not you brush or floss after meals
- How frequently you snack in between meals and the types of food you snack on
Food that is healthy for your body will be healthy for your teeth, and vice versa. Choose fresh foods over packaged or processed foods as often as possible and limit your beverage choices to fluoridated water or unsweetened teas. Avoid very sugary or starchy foods and beverages, and try to include vitamin- and nutrient-rich foods in every meal. And, no matter how healthy you are eating and drinking, be sure to maintain good oral health practices like twice-daily brushing, daily flossing, and regular dental cleanings and exams.