Some foods help your choppers and some… not so much.
Brushing and flossing aren’t the only ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy. When and what you eat are also important.
When your mouth waters, it makes saliva, a powerful tooth defender. Saliva swishes away food particles that can get stuck and damage your tooth enamel. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate, which help shore up tooth enamel. When you snack, you don’t make as much saliva as when you have a larger meal. That means food is more likely to stick to your teeth and stay stuck. If you’re a habitual nibbler, try to cut back on snacks or be sure to brush afterward.
What you eat matters, too. Here are some dental good and bad guys.
Good: The Tooth Builders
Even kiddos know that calcium makes teeth stronger. That means dairy foods, right? Yes. But that’s not the only way to get calcium (great news if you’re lactose intolerant). Protein also builds tooth strength. Try these foods, which have both calcium and protein, to help build strong teeth:
- almonds and other nuts
- calcium-fortified foods (tofu and orange juice)
- canned fish with bones (anchovies, sardines, and salmon)
- leafy greens (kale and spinach)
- soy milk
Bad: The Tooth Breakers
Even if crunchy foods don’t crack your teeth, they can chip your tooth enamel and open the door to decay. Much trickier are foods that are both hard and soft, like popcorn. You think you’re safe, then … crunch. And don’t forget that teeth are for eating food, not holding or opening things. These are some common causes of cracked or chipped teeth:
- foods with large bones (like wings and ribs)
- hard candies
- hard pretzels, cookies, or other baked goods
- olives with pits
Good: The Mouth Waterers
Certain foods can increase the amount of saliva you make, particularly ones that require you to chew, chew, chew. Fresh produce also contains lots of water, as well as fiber, which helps scrub teeth while you munch. (Alcohol and caffeine have the opposite effect, so drink plenty of water with either of them — bonus points if the water’s fluoridated.) Some foods that make us salivate:
- fresh fruits
- fresh vegetables
- sugarless gum
Bad: The Enamel Eroders
Foods that are acidic, sticky, starchy, or sugary all leave teeth with a coating of food that can lead to plaque buildup and tooth decay. Some enamel eroders:
- alcoholic beverages
- carbonated beverages
- citrus foods and beverages
- dried fruits
- potato chips and other starchy snacks
- sugary foods and beverages
The Bottom Line
After you eat anything, even if it’s a dental good guy, make sure there’s nothing stuck in your teeth. Drink plenty of water, especially when you choose to eat foods more likely to lead to decay. Every day, brush your teeth at least twice and clean in between teeth with floss at least once. And don’t forget regular checkups.