In honor of National Nutrition Month 2020, I started reflecting on not only nutrition in general, but also how what we consume affects the health of our teeth and gums. After all, oral health is maintained and improved by our daily brushing and flossing habits, as well as what we put into our bodies. In this post we will discuss foods you can eat for strong healthy teeth and gums.
My patients and others who have known me for years understand that I’ve always been a bit of a health nut. While I enthusiastically enjoy a treat from local favorite Misha’s Cupcakes from time to time (did someone say carrot cake?), in general I try to live a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise; a low meat and low fat diet high in fruits, vegetables and protein; taking vitamins and minerals; drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated; consuming alcohol in moderation; not smoking; and not letting a bad day affect my outlook on life. After all, we all should nurture our mental health as much as our physical health.
People have recognized the correlation between food and health for centuries. In the days of the grand explorers facing the high seas in search of new lands, the sailors brought orange trees on their ships to enable them to consume vitamin C to prevent scurvy.
Knowledge has evolved since then, and as a biology major and a lifelong student of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I understand the body’s need of a healthy diet to ensure that all of our organs are optimized to live not only a long life, but also one that ensures a good quality of life as much as possible. Therefore, we should all consume foods and beverages with nutrition in mind, plus a guilty treat every now and then. And as a Coral Gables dentist, I always suggest eating to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
The Anatomy of Healthy Teeth and Gums
Healthy teeth and gums, as part of our body, require a healthy diet. But teeth are made up of different materials so they require different vitamins and minerals to help ensure their strength.
Four dental tissues make up our teeth. Enamel, dentin and cementum are hard tissues, whereas pulp is the only soft tissue. With healthy teeth and gums, each of these four tissues will work properly together:
Enamel can be defined as the hard calcified tissue that covers the dentin in the crown of a tooth. Enamel does not contain any living cells and can’t self-repair any damage from decay or wear, so a Coral Gables dentist is needed to resolve these issues.
Dentin lies under the enamel and cementum and it’s made up of microscopic tubules, or small hollow canals or tubes. When the enamel wears away and fails to adequately protect the dentin, heat, cold and acidic or sticky foods upset the nerves and cells inside the tooth, causing the sensitivity that many of us have felt from time to time.
Hard connective tissue that covers the tooth root and attaches to the periodontal ligament.
Pulp is the non-calcified center of the tooth that houses the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue.
For more details on the anatomy of the tooth, you can visit the website of the American Dental Association (ADA).
Food for Healthy Teeth and Gums
Most of the same foods that research has shown to benefit your body have also proven to be beneficial for tooth and gum health. Fruits, vegetables, protein and of course food and beverages high in calcium can all do wonders for your oral health. So next time you’re purchasing groceries, keep the following minerals and types of foods in mind and add them to your cart:
Foods high in calcium are one of the key items to consume for healthy teeth and bones (including your jawbone), and in addition calcium contributes to structural support. Keep in mind that many of the first foods that come to mind when we think high calcium tend to be dairy products that are high in fat content as well. Make sure you’re smart about purchasing dairy and stick to low or non-fat yogurt, low fat cottage cheese, skim milk and cheese. Did you know that you can increase your calcium intake without overindulging in cheddar or feta? Include these foods in your rotation:
- Green veggies, especially the dark, leafy kind such as kale, broccoli raap, collard greens, bok choy and broccoli.
- Other produce including oranges, dried fruit, figs and almonds
- Beans including soybeans, lentils, winged beans and white beans
- Seafood, such as canned salmon, shrimp and sardines
- Seeds, including chia, sesame, poppy and celery seeds
- Fortified foods. When you’re reading the labels, ensure that each of these foods is “fortified” with calcium: almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, orange juice, grapefruit juice, other juices, tofu, oatmeal, english muffins, cereal, etc.
While calcium is beneficial on its own, phosphorus helps calcium maximize the assistance it gives to teeth and bones. Food that’s high in phosphorus includes:
- Grains and nuts: cereals, wheat germ, soy beans, almonds and other nuts
- Proteins: lean meat, poultry and eggs
- Seafood: salmon, shrimp, sardines, cod, tuna and scallops
- Produce: grapes, citrus fruit, cucumbers and tomatoes
The gums and the soft tissue in your mouth partially get their strength from vitamin C. Why is this important? To help ward off gingivitis, or the early stage of gum disease. In addition, it can help prevent teeth from loosening. Food containing above average vitamin C includes:
- Citrus, including oranges, lemons and limes
- Produce such as leafy greens, broccoli, pumpkin, cauliflower, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, apples and papaya
Your body absorbs calcium with help from vitamin D, and this mineral improves bone mineral density as well. While your body naturally produces vitamin D when it’s exposed to the sun, add these foods to your diet as well:
- Canned tuna and salmon, plus mackerel
- Portobello mushrooms
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods such as orange juice, soy milk, cereal and others
Potassium boosts bone mineral density, and with magnesium prevents blood from becoming too acidic, which can reduce the amount of calcium in teeth and bone. For foods high in potassium, eat:
- Mostly produce such as bananas, prunes, avocados, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, Swiss chard, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, peas, zucchini, eggplant, lima beans and more.
What Not to Eat or Do For Healthy Teeth and Gums
Just as important as what you consume, is what you don’t consume. Avoid these to not counteract all the good food you eat:
- Sugar: As I mentioned, I love a sweet treat now and then, but sugar
- Snacking: Keep snacking to a minimum and be smart about what you eat. Opt for fruit, veggies, nuts, popcorn or yogurt, and steer clear of sugary candies.
Advice to Remember For Healthy Teeth and Gums
If you take away anything from this blog post, remember that consuming healthy fruits, vegetables and proteins are good for your body and your teeth; consume as little sugar as possible; brush after every meal; floss daily; and visit your Coral Gables dentist every 6 months for a check up.
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Thank you for reading our blog about how to improve the health of your teeth with nutrition. Whether you’re looking for a general dentist, periodontist, endodontist, orthodontist, oral surgeon, prosthodontist or pedodontist, South Gables Dental can help!
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I’m Dr. Lawrence Lesperance, a Coral Gables dentist who specializes in preventative dentistry, general dentistry services, and cosmetic dentistry services. My team and I provide personalized dental services for the whole family and offer Invisalign treatment, implant dentistry, periodontic services and botox treatments (for TMJ and migraines and cosmetic botox) and much more. Contact us to experience the South Gables Dental difference today!