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Posted on: March 26, 2023
Your Diet and Your Smile: What You Need to Know
Brushing and flossing are essential for good oral health, but your diet can also affect the health of your smile. What you eat and drink could be causing or contributing to common dental problems such as enamel erosion, tooth decay, gum disease, and more. Our dentist in New Haven can help you make good decisions about your dental care. We offer complete dental services to help protect and restore your smile, and that includes nutritional counseling.
Sugar is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to smile-damaging foods. Foods that contain a lot of added or naturally occurring sugars can erode and decay your teeth. Highly processed foods tend to contain a lot of simple carbohydrates and are poor sources of the nutrients your teeth and gums need for good health. Here is what you need to know about supporting your smile with good nutrition.
Snacking for Your Smile
What you eat matters, but how often you eat is also important. Each time you eat or drink something with sugar or carbohydrates, the bacteria that live in your mouth release acid. This acid can be damaging to teeth, kicking off a process called demineralization in which minerals are leached from the teeth.
The hard enamel coating on your teeth is the hardest substance in your body, but it’s made of tightly packed crystals that can lose mineral ions when attacked by acid. Demineralization can lead to porous enamel, tooth decay, and cavities. The body has a natural process to replace the lost minerals called remineralization. Saliva can help neutralize the acids in your mouth and restore the lost minerals.
To do that, though, your mouth needs a break from all that acid, which can continue for up to 20 minutes after a sweet snack or drink. If you snack often, your teeth could spend the day bathed in acid with little time to recover. For the healthiest smile, it’s best to limit your snacks, and when you do snack, make healthy, low-sugar choices, such as:
- Celery sticks, carrots, broccoli, and other crunchy veggies
- Low-fat cheese and sugar-free yogurt
- Almonds, pecans, and other nuts
- Apples, pears, and other fibrous fruits
- Peanut butter
You can further limit the risk of damage by chewing sugar-free, xylitol-sweetened gum after meals and snacks and by brushing twice daily using fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily. Try to wait about an hour after eating to brush so that any acids that remain in your mouth have been properly neutralized.
Healthy Diet Choices
While a balanced diet is important for your dental health, some nutrients are more important to your smile than others.
Calcium is one of them. You probably already know that you need ample calcium for strong bones, but you also need it for strong teeth and a healthy jawbone. You can get more calcium in your diet from low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified plant milk and juices. You need vitamin D to get the most from your calcium intake. Vitamin D is found in egg yolks, fatty fish, and mushrooms.
Vitamin A is another important nutrient. Vitamin A helps keep your oral soft tissues, such as your palate and your gums, healthy. It also keeps saliva flowing, which neutralizes oral acids and helps remineralize teeth. You can get more vitamin A from sweet potatoes, melons, and spinach.
Vitamin C is well-known for its benefits to your immune system. It can help you fight off infection and combat the bacteria to blame for gum disease. Citrus fruits are great sources of vitamin C, but you can also get vitamin C from strawberries, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes.
Magnesium is a mineral that works hand-in-hand with calcium. It helps protect your teeth from tooth decay. Magnesium is found in dark and leafy greens as well as dark chocolate!
Zinc is known for its ability to help people fight the common cold, but it can also help you fight gum disease. It does this by controlling the growth of oral bacteria found in plaque. Good sources of zinc include beef, cheese, wild rice, and wheat.
Finally, phosphorus is a mineral that is necessary during the remineralization process. You can get more phosphorus in your diet through eggs, milk, meat, poultry, and fish.
Don’t Discount Drinks!
With all those delicious and healthful food options, it can be easy to forget how important beverages are. Drinks can pose a special risk to our teeth. Soft drinks, sugar-sweetened drinks, energy drinks, and even wine, coffee, and fruit juice can all damage your teeth. Some drinks might just stain your teeth, but others can leave your teeth vulnerable to acid erosion and worse.
No drink is better for your teeth than plain water. Drinking water with fluoride with meals and between meals is one of the easiest and best ways you can support your dental health. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is often added to public water supplies because it interferes with the natural processes of oral bacteria and helps harden teeth, making them stronger against tooth decay.
Sparkling waters are popular water alternatives, and you can safely enjoy them in moderation. For the best experience, read the label before drinking to ensure your choice is sugar-free and low in citric acid. You can also opt to use a straw with your sparkling water, which further lowers the risk.
A Healthy Smile, a Healthy Body
A balanced, nutritious diet is good for your body, and it’s good for your health. Oral diseases can have far-reaching effects. Gingivitis, for example, is the earliest stage of gum disease. It might look like red, swollen, and bleeding gums, but without treatment, gum disease can increase your risk of serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Teeth lost to tooth decay can affect your speech, confidence, and quality of life, but tooth loss can also affect your health, increasing your risk of jawbone loss and dementia.
Eating a balanced diet can help protect both your smile and your body. You can also take steps to protect your smile by brushing twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, flossing or using an interdental cleaner to clean between your teeth, and visiting our dentist in New Haven twice a year or on a recommended schedule for dental cleanings and checkups. Contact our offices today to learn more about caring for your smile or to schedule your next appointment.