When most of us think of the effect of food on our teeth, we probably think of the age-old wisdom that sugar causes tooth decay. And while sugar is a notorious culprit, there are many other ways that the foods you eat affect your teeth, & not all of it is bad news.
First of all, it’s good to review how sugar actually causes cavities. It’s not the sugar itself that’s responsible for decay. Sugar acts as a food source for bacteria on your teeth & gums, which digest it & turn it into an acidic byproduct you’ve probably already heard of, called plaque. Plaque is sticky & adheres to your teeth, where its acids start to dissolve the hard outer layer of your teeth called enamel. Bacteria can then get into this hole in the enamel & start to destroy the inside of the tooth, causing toothaches & abscesses that require treatment from your dentist (root canals, tooth extractions, etc). Clearly, it’s a good idea to avoid sugar as much as possible & to brush & floss thoroughly after consuming sugary foods.
Getting the right amount of Vitamin C is essential to keeping teeth healthy. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes & grapefruit are packed with Vitamin C, but it is also found in bell peppers, broccoli, & dark leafy greens like spinach. Vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy, & its symptoms include weak, spongy gums & eventual tooth loss. (In the old days, British sailors acquired the nickname Limeys because of the citrus juice that was added to their daily rations in an attempt to stave off scurvy. Compared to sailors from other countries, these Limeys were missing fewer teeth!). Vitamin C is also essential to keeping your immune system strong & therefore more capable of fighting off infections that may develop in your mouth.
Even though citrus is a great source of Vitamin C, be careful about consuming too much orange juice or lemon-infused water, which has been touted for many other possible health benefits. Citrus is very acidic, & acidic drinks & foods can erode the enamel of your teeth & cause tooth decay just like bacteria. Other acidic foods to consume with caution include wine, coffee, tomato-based foods (ketchup, pasta sauce, salsa, etc.) & sodas & energy drinks (especially diet varieties).
Foods that are high in antioxidants & other nutrients are known to reduce inflammation & help the body fight bacteria. These can also have a positive impact on your oral health. Examples of such foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) & nuts. Foods that are high in calcium & vitamin D, such as milk & cheese, can also help strengthen your teeth from the inside. These same nutrients will also help strengthen your bones, including your jawbone, which holds your teeth securely in place.
Essentially, most of the food choices that are good for your overall health are also good for your dental health. A balanced diet that includes vitamins & calcium & avoids excessive amounts of sugar, alcohol, or diet sodas will help keep your smile happy & healthy. If you have any questions about which food choices may help or hurt your teeth, feel free to ask us during your next visit to the dental clinic.