“We all know excellent nutrition helps build an excellent body,” says Paula Shannon Jones, DDS, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. “So it follows that whatever you eat affects your teeth and gums, too.”
When it comes to nutrition and oral health, it’s not just the usual suspects like sugar that may be harmful. Some surprising—even healthy—foods can cause cavities, while others can help protect you from decay, gum disease, and even bad breath.Here are great tips for nutrition and oral health, and how you can tailor your diet for optimal dental health, dental care, and healthy teeth:
Eat carbs at mealtimes
A handful of potato chips or even a whole wheat roll can be just as damaging to your teeth and gums as a chocolate chip cookie. All carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, which are ultimately converted by bacteria in the mouth into plaque, a sticky residue that is the primary cause of gum disease and cavities. Carb-based foods such as breads and crackers tend to have “a chewy, adhesive texture,” making it easier for them to get caught between teeth or under the gum line, where bacteria can then accumulate, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Have carbs at mealtimes rather than as a snack: When you eat a larger amount of food, you produce more saliva, which helps wash food particles away.
Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease. “Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause the odor,” explains Christine D. Wu, PhD, associate dean for research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, who has conducted several studies on tea and oral health and dental care. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it’s steeped in), which helps protect tooth enamel from decay and promotes healthy teeth.