Healthy Teeth Basics: How Food Affects Teeth

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Though it may seem like tooth care is all about what not to eat, there are some foods that contribute to a healthy smile.

CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D

Most people understand that calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones, but many of us fail to make the connection between our bones and our teeth. Teeth are embedded in the jaw bone, so if its bone density falls, your teeth won’t have a firm footing. If periodontal disease sets in, a strong jaw-bone will be your first defense against tooth loss.

In addition, a calcium-poor diet seems to increase the overall risk of developing periodontal disease. Research has shown that women who get less than 500 milligrams of calcium per day from their diets have a 54 percent greater risk of periodontal disease compared with those who get more than 800 milligrams of calcium per day. Calcium cannot be absorbed and used by bone without vitamin D, so it is important to eat foods rich in both nutrients. Women of all ages who don’t get enough calcium through diet should consider taking a supplement that contains calcium plus D3 (cholecalciferol, the most potent form of vitamin D).

BEST FOODS FOR CALCIUM:Yogurt (fat-free, low-fat), milk (fat-free, 1% low-fat), soy milk, cheese (fat-free, reduced-fat), tofu with calcium (check nutrition label), soybeans (edamame), frozen yogurt (fat-free, low-fat), low-fat ice cream, bok choy, kale, white beans, collard greens, broccoli, almonds and almond butter

BEST FOODS FOR VITAMIN D:Wild salmon (fresh, canned), mackerel (not king), sardines, herring, milk (fat-free, 1% low-fat), soy milk, fortified yogurt (fat-free, low-fat), egg yolks, vitamin D-enhanced mushrooms

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is critical for keeping gums healthy because it strengthens blood vessels and the connective tissue that holds your teeth in your jaw. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C also help reduce inflammation, which may help prevent or slow the progression of gingivitis. In one study, researchers found that people who did not get enough vitamin C in their diets had about a 20 percent greater risk of developing periodontal disease than people who ate plenty of vitamin C–rich produce.

BEST FOODS FOR VITAMIN C:Guava, bell peppers (all colors), oranges and orange juice, grapefruit and grapefruit juice, strawberries, pineapple, kohlrabi, papaya, lemons and lemon juice, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, kidney beans, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, cabbage (all varieties), mangoes, white potato, mustard greens, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, snow peas, clementines, rutabagas, turnip greens, raspberries, blackberries, watermelon, tangerines, okra, lychees, summer squash, persimmons

WATER AND GREEN TEA

Water not only helps wash away food debris that can get trapped in teeth, it also helps keep saliva levels high. Saliva is your body’s best defense against tooth decay because its proteins and minerals counteract enamel-eating acids, keeping your teeth strong. That’s why people with dry mouth, no matter what the cause, need to see the dentist more frequently than others. If you have dry mouth, hard candies can be disastrous! Chew sugarless gum instead. Saliva is more than 95 percent water, so stay hydrated throughout the day to keep its flow constant.

If plain water bores you, try unsweetened green tea. Green tea is rich in antioxidants called catechins, which inhibit the growth of bacteria that initiate periodontal disease and break down gum tissue. A 2009 study found that Japanese men who regularly consumed green tea had healthier gums than men who were less frequent tea drinkers. For each additional cup of green tea consumed, markers of gum health improved, suggesting that regularly sipping green tea (unsweetened, of course!) can promote dental health and help ward off gum disease.

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