March is National Nutrition Month! Healthy eating habits are good for your body and your smile.
Dr. Christine Wu, a pediatric dentistry researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Dentistry, explores and identifies plant-derived oral antimicrobial agents for the control of oral pathogens and their biofilms. In plain language, that means she studies foods that slow or prevent icky film from forming on your teeth, which then helps prevent the development of tartar and cavity-causing plaque. Dr. Wu calls herself an “advocate and promoter of ‘functional foods’ for oral health.” These are foods that can benefit oral health. This blog post looks at a few of them and why they work.
Smile-Friendly Food Choices
Cheese has been shown to reduce acid levels in the mouth. Acidity is what leads to an oral climate ripe for bacteria growth and ultimately tooth decay. The journal General Dentistry published a study in which individuals had the pH levels in their mouths measured, ate cheddar cheese and then had measurements taken again. They saw rapid drops in acid levels. The same study tried to produce the same results with other dairy products like yogurt or milk, but did not see the same effects on pH levels.
Cranberries contain polyphenols which may keep plaque from sticking to teeth, thus lowering the risk of cavities, according to a study published in the journal Caries Research. But beware. Corporate food producers often add sugar to these tart fruits in dried form, which could affect the potential benefits cranberries have. You’re better off adding fresh cranberries without adding sugar, to smoothies, baked items or salads, to get the full benefit for your smile.
Crunchy foods deliver crunch with punch. Anything that requires serious chewing, like carrots, apples, celery or cucumbers, disturbs dental plaque on the surface of the teeth, clearing it away. And chewing promotes saliva production, which helps naturally restore your mouth’s natural pH level and fights bacteria growth.
Vitamins are good for your body and your teeth, too. Vitamin-rich foods like cheese, almonds and leafy greens which contain calcium, as well as foods high in phosphorous like meat, eggs and fish, can help keep tooth enamel strong and healthy, according to the American Dental Association. Dr. Wu’s research has shown that calcium and phosphate help redeposit minerals into the lesions on teeth caused by acid and tooth decay. Calcium is also good for bones, including your jaw.
Sugarless gum boosts saliva secretion, which clears away some bacteria. But make sure it’s sugarless! For an added bonus, look for gum with Xylitol (like Ice Cubes brand) . Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance which fights bacteria growth.
Think About What You Drink
It’s not just what you eat, but also what you drink, that has an impact on your health.
Water is always a wise choice. It doesn’t raise your pH level in your mouth. It keeps gums hydrated and washes away food particles and sugar. When in doubt, water is always a good choice for keeping your mouth and body happy and healthy.
Green or Black Tea contains polyphenols (like cranberries do) which have been found to slow the growth of bacteria associated with cavities and gum disease. Not only that, but tea, especially black tea, can fight halitosis, or bad breath because when you combat bacteria growth, you combat the odor that goes along with it.
Milk does a body good, and it does your smile good, too! Milk neutralizes some of the acid produced by plaque bacteria. Drinking a glass of milk after eating sweets, like chocolate cake, may protect teeth. However, milk poured over sugary cereal doesn’t have the same powerful effect, research showed, since the milk gets sugary and syrupy, and loses its helpful teeth-friendly benefits.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, add one or two of the options from the above list to your shopping cart, and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your smile and your body during National Nutrition Month!
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