It’s tempting to think of teeth as organs that are “just there”. Something you’re born with and can’t do much about except cleaning them regularly.
In truth, they are very much alive. They do form part of your overall state of health, and eating the right foods is an important part of keeping your teeth in good shape.
What Are Good Foods for Your Teeth?
The good news is that anyone who eats a diet that’s balanced and healthy in general is already on the right track.
When it comes to what we choose to put into our bodies, we’re often told a simplified version of the science: vitamin C is good for your immune system, omega oils support heart health, you need to get a lot of calcium for glimmering white teeth, and so on.
All of this is true, but virtually all nutrients have multiple vital functions in the body. Every one of them is important, and not eating a wide variety of foods will make everything in your body, including your teeth and gums, work less well than it should.
That having been said, there are a few types of food you should pay special attention to if good dental health is one of your priorities.
For simplicity, we’ll organize them in terms of their major functions.
Calcium: Strengthening Your Teeth
Many people, older women especially, suffer from calcium deficiency.
The most widely known symptom of this is osteoporosis, but this is far from the only problem a lack of calcium can cause. It plays an important role in practically every system in your body.
For most people, an intake of 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended. This translates to:
- 3 glasses of milk,
- 5 ounces (140 grams) of medium-hard cheese,
- 8 tablespoons of poppy seeds,
- 2 pounds (1 kilogram), raw, of spinach, or
- 10 ounces (300 grams) of tofu.
This sounds hard to achieve, but remember that you don’t need to restrict yourself to only one type of food.
Other good foods for boosting your calcium levels and strengthening your tooth enamel include sardines, salmon, almonds, beans, and foods fortified with calcium.
It’s also important to understand that your body can’t absorb calcium efficiently if it’s low on vitamin D. This is found in oily fish, egg yolks, and red meat. It’s also produced by your own body when you spend time in the sun.
Water and Crunchy Vegetables: Cleansing Your Mouth
Without a doubt, there’s no substitute for brushing your teeth. Twice a day, and either manually or electrically.
Twice a day is about how often most people are willing to perform this chore, though – what about the rest of the time?
Drinking water throughout the day has a surprisingly pronounced effect on tooth decay, especially if you use it to replace sugary beverages. When food residue is washed away, there’s less for bad mouth bacteria to consume, meaning that they excrete less harmful acids.
Similarly, snacking on apples, carrot sticks, celery, and fresh fruit polishes your teeth as you chew, even making them whiter over time. This also massages your gums, removes plaque, causes you to secrete more mouth-cleaning saliva, and helps curb your appetite without adding inches to your waistline.
Phosphorus: The Secret Ingredient to Healthy Teeth
Like vitamin D, phosphorus has a synergistic effect with calcium. Eating enough of one but not the other will leave your teeth vulnerable to cavities as well as all sorts of other problems.
Not all that many people suffer from a lack of this mineral, but taking certain medications or not eating a varied diet may leave you at risk.
Good sources of phosphorus include dairy, seafood, eggs, nuts, grains, meat and several types of vegetables.
If you have dental problems, getting too little phosphorus is unlikely to be the cause. Maybe you just haven’t been flossing properly?
Still, if you only ever eat a few kinds of foods, this possibility is worth keeping in mind.
Minor Players: Little Things that Matter a Lot
Pretty much everyone knows that foods rich in calcium are important to your skeleton, including your teeth. As much as 85% of all the phosphorous in your body can be found in your teeth and bones, so that’s a no-brainer too. Common sense tells us that cleaning your mouth by drinking water and chewing vegetables rich in fiber must be a good idea.
But we’re still missing a couple of important elements.
Nuts, berries, teas and even coffee contain compounds like vitamins K, A, and C that promote better gum health and thereby better teeth. All fruits and vegetables contain some mixture of essential minerals.
While getting more calcium in your diet is certainly to be commended, this is not enough. If you want your teeth to give you as little trouble as possible, you need to aim for the widest variety of foods you can.
Some Foods You Love, But Your Teeth Hate
While trying to select the right foods for your teeth, you should also avoid some of the worst offenders.
Chief among these is sugar in all its forms, especially soda. Your mouth contains a ton of bacteria (one reason why it’s bad manners to bite people). Many of these feed on sugar, in the process producing acids that can do a great deal of harm to your tooth enamel.
If you do want to indulge in sweet drinks and candy, it’s a good idea to do so as part of a larger meal or follow them up with a glass of water, which can limit the damage. The same goes for highly acidic foods like red wine, pickles and citrus fruits.
Most people aren’t willing to give up all sweet and sour treats, though. Especially if you’ve had dental problems in the past or you love sticky foods like crackers and toffee, it’s a good idea to keep a toothbrush or portable water flosser with you as often as you can.
Cleaning your teeth immediately will prevent the enamel from eroding as fast – this happens gradually, but is very difficult to reverse.