What to eat to keep your teeth

Today’s nutritional approaches to oral health go beyond "don’t eat sugar."

Good nutrition

"Adequate nutrition is important in disease prevention, and nutritional counseling is becoming an increasingly important tactic in preventive dentistry," says Ken Sutherland, DDS, senior dental consultant at Delta Dental. "The quality and consistency of foods, their nutritional composition and the combinations in which they are eaten can affect oral health, including the likelihood of tooth decay," he adds.

Ongoing research indicates that antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts may strengthen immunity and improve the body’s ability to fight bacteria and inflammation, all of which can help protect the teeth and gums. And some foods and dietary habits even have distinct effects on the mouth’s ability to handle cavity-causing bacteria attacks.

For example:

  • Calcium-fortified juices, milk and other dairy products are rich in calcium and vitamin D and help promote healthy teeth and bones, reducing the risk for tooth loss. Adding powdered milk to cooked dishes helps those who don’t like milk or cheese to get some of the calcium needed to protect teeth and jawbones.
  • Cheese unleashes a burst of calcium that mixes with plaque and sticks to the teeth, protecting them from the acid that causes decay and helping to rebuild tooth enamel on the spot.
  • Crisp fruits and raw vegetables, like apples, carrots and celery, help clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath.
  • Antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C, and other nutrients from fruits and vegetables help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection.
  • Recent studies indicate that fresh cranberries interrupt the bonding of oral bacteria before they can form damaging plaque.
  • Folic acid promotes a healthy mouth and supports cell growth throughout the entire body. This member of the B vitamin family is found in green leafy vegetables and brewer’s yeast.

You may already know that cavity-causing organisms feed on the sugar in foods such as soda, chocolate milk and candies and convert it to acid, which attacks tooth enamel and causes tooth decay. But did you know the following:

  • Acidic foods and drinks such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and juices, wine, pickles and honey can cause tooth enamel to wear away and teeth to become sensitive, cracked and discolored.

Timing is everything

A diet that promotes good oral health is not just about the foods you eat or avoid — when and how you eat them is equally important.

  • Foods that take a long time to chew or that you hold in your mouth (such as cough drops) can damage teeth as they hold sugar against teeth longer than do other foods.
  • Instead of snacking on sugary, carbohydrate-rich or acidic foods throughout the day, eat these foods just during meal times in order to minimize the amount of time teeth are exposed to acid. In addition, the body produces more saliva to help digest larger meals, which washes away more food and helps neutralize harmful acids before they can attack teeth.
Information courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry.
Last updated: February 2012

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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