Almost everyone—99.7 percent of adults surveyed, to be precise—thinks their smiles are an important social asset, reports the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. But a great set of pearly whites is about more than just appearances. What we eat can help us maintain a dazzling, healthy smile.
Dental health = overall health
“The condition of a person’s oral health is often a reflection of their overall health,” says Kellee Stanton, DDS, noting that there are “many direct and indirect links of oral disease to other health conditions.” For example, some studies link periodontal disease with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
“If eyes are the window to your soul,” says Stanton, “then your smile is your front door. Think about what enters that mouth on a daily basis, from what we eat and drink to the microbes we are exposed to. The mouth is not an island … it is directly linked to the entire body and in close proximity to the heart, lungs, and brain.”
To truly make a difference in our oral health, we need to think beyond the toothbrush. “Diet plays a huge role in keeping your teeth their healthiest and brightest,” says cosmetic dentist Jessica Emery, DMD. Every meal gives us a chance to strengthen our tooth enamel, guard against gum disease, and make our dentist happy!
Go crazy for carrots
“Carrots … contain vitamin A needed for healthy tooth enamel,” says Emery. They also stimulate healthy saliva production, which she says can help wash away food stains. Store cut carrot sticks in reusable containers for a convenient on-the-go snack.
Boost bell pepper intake
Bell peppers actually have twice the amount of vitamin C found in oranges—approximately 117 mg per cup. “Often prescribed by dermatologists for skin health, [vitamin C] is an important ingredient in the health of gum tissue,” reports Stanton.
Pick plaque-fighting pineapples
Pineapples can do more than just add tropical flair to your favourite smoothies or juices. This fruit is also rich in an enzyme called bromelain, which has been used to fight inflammation but may also be good for oral health. “Bromelain has been shown to break up plaque and act as a natural stain remover,” says Emery.
Amp up your apples
Apples work as gentle abrasives to cleanse your teeth and palate. “An apple a day can keep the dentist away,” says Emery. Fermented apples may also spruce up your smile. “Mix apple cider vinegar with baking soda to make a paste to brush onto teeth,” recommends cosmetic dentist Dr. Marc Lowenberg, “or gargle with it before brushing to help remove surface stains.”
Scrub with seeds
“Sesame seeds and nuts help scrub away plaque,” says Emery, who notes that they also contain calcium that helps keep teeth strong. “Really, any kind of hard and crunchy vegetable is good for the teeth because they act as an abrasive and stimulate saliva to prevent plaque.” Keep a bag of nuts stored in your office desk drawer for a convenient and healthy snack.
Make kale king
“Foods that contain calcium and vitamin C, such as kale, are a must-have staple in a healthy diet,” reports Stanton. “Not only is [kale] packed with essential vitamins and minerals for healthy teeth and gums, it also [contains] antioxidants.” For what she calls a “smile booster smoothie,” Stanton suggests blending kale with frozen berries, a banana, Greek yogurt, ice, and chilled green tea.
Grin at ginger
Ginger has been used for thousands of years to fight inflammation. “Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and helps support mouth tissue,” says Emery. Try steeping shredded ginger in a soothing tea, or juice some of this potent root and add it to your favourite green juice.
Chew on some cheese
“It might sound unlikely,” says Lowenberg, “but one of the best and easiest ways to combat acid erosion of your teeth is to eat a piece of cheese after every meal.” He notes that cheese is high in phosphorus, protein, and calcium, which he says can “buffer the acids in your mouth.”
For the best results, Lowenberg recommends choosing the right kind of cheese. “Cheddar is best, since it contains the highest levels of alkali; soft cheese such as brie or feta won’t have much of an effect.”
Cozy up to celery
Snacking on celery sticks stimulates saliva production, countering common problems such as dry mouth and helping to reduce your risks of dental decay.
Suck on strawberries
“Strawberries are a great, natural way to whiten teeth,” says Lowenberg. “You can just eat them or go a step further and brush your teeth with a paste of strawberries and baking soda, but be sure to thoroughly clean teeth afterward to prevent tooth decay.”
4 steps to a brighter smile
1. Choose the right brush
“The most important part of the toothbrush is the quality of the bristles,” says Stanton. When choosing a natural bristle brush, she recommends those labelled “soft” bristles. “Poor bristle quality, or coarse bristles, can accelerate the abrasion of enamel,” warns Stanton. “This can make the worn teeth appear more yellow in colour, and can increase sensitivity of the teeth to things such as temperature and/or sweets.”
2. Find the right paste
“Even ‘natural’ toothpastes can be very abrasive, wearing away enamel at an accelerated rate,” notes Stanton. She reports that abrasivity is not indicated on toothpaste packaging, but says that in one study, “refined kaolin clay proved to be effective in stain and plaque removal but low in abrasivity.”
3. Time it right.
The Canadian Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth for three minutes after every meal.
4. Avoid the stains.
Sidestep stains and problems ahead of time so you don’t have to fix them later. Some of the worst foods that cause stained teeth, according to Emery, include coffee, red wine, and soy sauce.
About the Author: Joshua Duvauchelle is a health writer and certified personal trainer with a nutrition certificate from Cornell. http://www.alive.com/articles/view/24079/10_foods_for_a_healthier_smile