You probably know that gooey, sticky candy isn’t exactly great for your teeth. But when it comes to diet and your teeth, what you should eat is just as important as what you shouldn’t.
“Variety and moderation are key to a diet for healthy teeth,” says George Shepley, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Baltimore and a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Strive for a balanced plate incorporating different options from each of the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. “Limiting or eliminating one of these groups can lead to vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which can affect your oral health,” he says.
What’s more: Poor nutrition can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to other health problems, including gum disease, Dr. Shepley says.
Here are nine best things to eat and drink for healthy teeth:
- Water. Nothing hydrates like plain water — and it’s good for your oral health, too. “It’s especially good to drink water after eating sugary foods because it helps rinse food particles from the teeth,” Shepley says. “This dilutes the acids produced from bacteria that are converting the sugar into acid.” It’s best to drink water with fluoride to help strengthen teeth, and most tap water in the United States has it. It’s especially important for children to get fluoride. Adding fluoride to the local water supply helped reduce tooth decay in children, according to research published in February 2015 in the journal Caries Research. Check with your local water company to make sure your tap water contains fluoride. If bottled water is your preference, find out if it contains fluoride. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bottled water manufacturers aren’t generally required to include fluoride amounts on the label. Check with the manufacturer about fluoride in your preferred bottled water.
- Milk. Milk provides calcium, protein, and vitamin D, which helps the body better absorb calcium. “Vitamin D deficiency can lead to burning mouth syndrome — a painful condition in which a person feels a scalding sensation in the tongue, lips, palate, or throughout the mouth,” Shepley says.
- Lean protein. Include plenty of lean cuts of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs in your diet. Your body needs the protein and your teeth need the phosphorous these foods contain. Phosphorous is important in protecting enamel, the protective layer on your teeth. Chicken and fish boast vitamin B3 (niacin), and almonds and other nuts offer vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B12 as well as iron, all of which are important for healthy teeth and gums.
- Sweet potatoes. Shepley suggests these nutrient-rich root vegetables because they’re a great source of vitamin A, which also helps protect the enamel on your teeth and ward off cavities.
- Cheese and other dairy foods. Cheese is a good choice for healthy teeth because it’s rich in both calcium and protein, and it reduces acidity, Shepley says. Protein is an essential building block for growth, and calcium is important for strong teeth. “Yogurt is a good choice, and it also has probiotics, which supply healthy bacteria.”
- Leafy greens and crunchy produce. Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens offer a healthy dose of nutrients for teeth and gums. Spinach is rich in both vitamin A and vitamins B2 and B12. Shepley suggests eating a crunchy apple, carrots, or celery to promote saliva production, which dilutes acids and helps remove debris from your teeth.
- Tea. Both green and black teas can help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth, Shepley says. Green teas also offer antioxidants that promote overall health.
- Oranges, strawberries, and other vitamin-C-rich fruits and veggies.Vitamin C promotes healthy gums and quick healing of wounds, Shepley says. “Severe vitamin C deficiency can result in bleeding gums or loose teeth.”
- Sugar-free gum. In between meals, pop in a stick of sugar-free gum. “Chewing sugarless gum is very useful for stimulating saliva and cleaning teeth,” Shepley says. Just avoid chewing for long periods of time to prevent your jaw from getting sore.