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Eat your way to healthy teeth and gums


When it comes to the health of your teeth, you really are what you eat.

Oral health is one of the first areas to decline when your diet is less than ideal, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

The difference between a healthy smile and frequent visits to the dentist might be your diet. If you’re trying to protect your teeth and gums, choose wisely when it comes to food and beverages. Everyone knows sugary foods, such as candy and soda, contribute to tooth decay, but here are some less obvious guidelines for what to eat and drink — and what to avoid — for good oral health:

  • Acidic foods and drinks may cause erosion of tooth enamel, so you need to put some minerals back and try to restore what is lost. The main heroes here are calcium and phosphorous, which are the building blocks of enamel. The best sources of calcium are yogurt, hard cheeses, seafood, low-fat milk, tofu, and almonds. Phosphorous is found in pumpkin seeds, fish, Brazil nuts, red meat, eggs, tofu, and broth.
  • Hard, crunchy foods that contain lots of water are great for your teeth more than one way. First, chewing produces more saliva, which is the best natural neutralizer of the bacteria that causes cavities. Second, the texture of these foods makes them naturally abrasive, so they gently scrub and clean, removing plaque and food particles. Some of the best options are celery, apples, cucumbers, and carrots.
  • Vitamin D is important for your overall health, but it’s especially critical to good oral health because it helps your body to absorb calcium. The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight, but it can also be found in fish, egg yolks, cod liver oil, and fortified milk.
  • Vitamin C can strengthen blood vessels and reduce inflammation, which may help your gums stay healthier. Vitamin C is also required for the production of collagen, a key protein that helps you fight periodontal disease. Without sufficient Vitamin C, your gums become sensitive and more susceptible to the bacteria causing periodontal disease. Some of the best sources are bell peppers, oranges, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, and kale.
  • Foods rich in antioxidants have myriad health benefits, including fighting the bacteria that cause inflammation and periodontal disease. They help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection. Antioxidant-rich foods include apples, berries, grapes, raisins, nuts, and beans.
  • Foods containing probiotics are popular for their digestive health benefits, but there is some evidence the good bacteria in probiotics may help decrease plaque and promote healthy gums. The best sources are yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, and other fermented foods.
  • Foods that contain sugars of any kind can contribute to tooth decay. Almost all foods, including milk and vegetables, contain some type of sugar, but they are a necessary part of a healthy diet because many of them also contain important nutrients. To help control the amount of sugar you consume, read food labels and choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugars.