Foods for Healthy Teeth and Gums
The experts at Precision Nutrition recently put together a great guide highlighting the best foods and nutrition practices for healthy teeth that can be used to start the discussion with your patients.
Regular brushing and flossing helps keep teeth healthy by getting rid of excess sugars and food particles, but research is finding certain foods may be good for your teeth too! These "functional foods" keep plaque from building up, brighten teeth, and can even fight gum disease.
Among the foods, nutrients and supplements they suggest, the following stood out as the best in the bunch:
Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host, when administered in adequate amounts. These foods are primarily found in fermented dairy products such as yogurts and certain cheeses, but can also be found in some non-dairy items such as sauerkraut, soy sauce and pickles. The bacteria in fermented foods are thought to suppress the growth of pathogens in the oral cavity; probiotics may also help to decrease gingivitis and plaque.
According to Precision Nutrition, "Cranberries and other plant foods rich in anthocyanins (such as blueberries, red cabbage, eggplant peel, black rice, and raspberries) may prevent the attachment and colonization of pathogens on host tissues (including teeth)." Cranberries contain polyphenols which may keep plaque from sticking to teeth, lowering teh risk of cavities. Cranberry products often contain added sugar, so be careful when choosing cranberry as a teeth-healthy option.
Green tea is rich in fluoride and known to reduce bacteria and toxicity in the mouth. Compounds in both black and green tea called polyphenols slow the growth of bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease. Researchers found that people who rinsed their mouths with black tea for one minute several times throughout the day had less plaque buildup on their teeth. The size and stickness of plaque was also reduced.
Arginine is an amino acid that may alter oral pH levels and reduce chances of a cavity. Arginine can be found in many types of lean poultry, dairy, seafood, whole grains and nuts. The journal of General Dentistry reports that teens who ate cheddar cheese had lower acid levels in their mouths that those who ate sugar-free yogurt of drank a glass of milk. Cheese may even neutralize the plaque acid and chewing increases saliva production, washing out some of the existing bacteria. The American Dental Association reports that foods containing calcium and foods high in phosphorous can help keep tooth enamel strong and healthy.
Other common sources of Arginine include: cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, pork, chicken, turkey (light meat only), seafood (lobster, salmon, shrimp, halibut, tuna), wheat germ and flour, oatmeal, granola, nuts (coconut, pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pinenuts), seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), chickpeas, cooked soybeans
Raw Fruits and Veggies
Precision Nutrition explains. "Raw veggies clean your teeth to a degree (apples, carrots, bell peppers, etc). Eating an apple as dessert after lunch will help to remove material that has adhered to the surface of your teeth. Plus, apples contain naturally occurring xylitol." Naturally sweet raisins are a source of phytochemicals which amy kill cavity-causing plaque bacteria. Some compounds in raisns also affect the growth of bacteria associated with gum disease.
These foods shouldn't be viewed as a checklist necessary for a healthy smile, but rather as a guide to help patients choose the healthy options that are right for them. In general, they should eat lots of fresh vegetables and lean protein while avoiding processed foods and sugars.
Speaking from the dental professional's perspective, what other foods do you think should be added to this list?