The Specialist

The best foods for healthy teeth and gums

You are what you eat. Also, this is true for your teeth and gums. When you drink and eat starchy or sugary foods, you’re not only feeding yourself, you’re also feeding the germs in your mouth that can cause tooth decay and gum disease. In this column, I will address the best foods for your teeth and gums.

Bacterial plaque is a thin, invisible, sticky film of bacteria along with other materials. It covers all the surfaces of your teeth. When sugars or starches in your mouth come into contact with plaque, acids form. These acids can attack your teeth after you finish eating. Repeated attacks can break down the hard enamel on the surface of the teeth. This leads to tooth decay. Also, the bacteria in plaque triggers an inflammatory response that causes the breakdown of the gums, bone and other supporting structures of your teeth. Some foods we eat induce tooth decay. Other foods help to slow down plaque buildup.

Here are some of the best foods to eat and others that increase chances of diseases in the mouth:

Some suggested best foods

Fruits and vegetables: Foods rich in fiber help keep your teeth and gums clean, says the American Dental Association (ADA). They increase your saliva flow. A fiber-rich diet along with good home care, is your best natural defense against cavities and gum diseases. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate that assist in restoring minerals to areas of the teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids.

Cheese, milk, plain yogurt and other dairy products: Cheese increases your saliva output. The calcium in cheese, as well as the phosphates and calcium in milk and other dairy products, help put back minerals in your teeth that may have been lost due to other foods. Also, they help rebuild tooth enamel.

Green and black teas: These teas contain polyphenols that interact with plaque bacteria. These substances either kill or reduce the effectiveness of bacteria by preventing the bacteria from growing or making acid that attacks teeth.

Sugarless chewing gum: This is another great saliva-maker that removes food particles from your mouth.

Foods and water with fluoride: Fluoridated drinking water, mouth rinses or products like toothpastes help your teeth. Commercially prepared foods such as poultry products, seafood and powdered cereals, also have fluoride.

Bad foods for
your teeth and gums

Ice cream, sticky candies: The added sugars in most sweets – from cookies to sodas – are bad news for your gums, because the sugars bind to gums triggering the release of eroding acids. Also, ice cream’s icy temperature can irritate gums where they have already started wearing away, exposing roots to hot and cold sensations.

Tomatoes: Just as sugary diets do not promote healthy and firm gums, highly acidic diets are also gum offenders. While tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to lower stroke risk, the juicy fruit is also highly acidic. Eating such foods is like bathing your teeth in acid that wears away gums and promotes decay.

Sports drinks: In addition to being high in sugar, sports drinks can also erode gums and promote tooth decay because they are acidic.

Carbonated soft drinks: These drinks are the leading source of added sugar among children and teens. They are loaded with sugar and have phosphoric and citric acids that wear away tooth enamel.

Bread: White bread, along with other foods that are full of starches made from white flour, are not friends to your gums. Surprisingly – bread, crackers and chips can be just as damaging to healthy gums as candy. These starches are simple carbohydrates that hang around the mouth and dissolve into the type of simple sugar that mouth germs thrive on; the kind that leads to acid-producing tooth decay.

Substances that dry out your mouth: These include alcohol and many medicines. If medicines are the cause, talk with your dentist about getting a fluoride rinse, or a fluoride gel for brushing your teeth.

Tips to help reduce tooth decay and gum disease risk from the foods you eat

• When you eat sugary foods, do so with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva during meals. This helps to reduce the effect of acid production and to rinse particles of food from the mouth.

• Limit snacking between meals. If you crave a snack, choose something nutritious. Consider chewing sugarless gum afterward to increase saliva flow and wash out food and acid.

• Drink more water. Fluoridated water, tooth pastes and mouth rinses can help prevent tooth decay.

• Brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once per day.

Protecting your teeth and gums start with getting the right information. Making wise and informed decisions and forming good dental hygiene habits are important behaviors to practice. Eating the right foods is one step toward the continuum of achieving good health and wellness.

• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or kmajorcsd@gmail.com.

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