Every time you eat or drink a meal, your teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour. The sugar which is in most food reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produces harmful acids, which attack tooth enamel and causes decay. So it is important to have sugary foods or drinks just at mealtimes, limiting the amount of time your mouth is at risk. Unfortunately nearly every type of food, contains sugar of one sort or another.
When you go food shopping, take a look at the list of ingredients on processed food. Often ingredients ending in ‘ose’ are sugars, such as sucrose, fructose and glucose. These are all really bad for your teeth. The higher up they appear on the list, the more sugar the product contains. Remember that ‘no added sugar’ doesn’t mean ‘’sugar free’ at all. Orange juice, for example, may say ‘no added sugar’ but it is high in natural sugar, which is very acidic and can dissolve tooth enamel. If you like fruit juice and want the vitamin C boost it provides, make sure you drink it at a meal time, rather than sipping it throughout the day. The same goes for fizzy drinks too.
As well as avoiding processed foods that are high in sugar, we can help ourselves a lot by not adding sugar to food or drinks, avoiding sugary drinks altogether and not snacking between meal times. Of course we can’t cut out all foodstuffs that are potentially bad for our teeth as we need many of the nutrients they contain to maintain good health generally. That’s why cleaning your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, twice a day for two minutes each time is really important.
The good news is there are some types of food that have been shown to have a positive effect on our teeth. Here is list of foods that you should reach for every day which will benefit your health – and your teeth. Don’t keep grazing on them throughout the day though, stick to mealtimes.
Leafy green vegetables
We all know these are good for us, being packed full of healthy vitamins and minerals, without loads of calories. Many people don’t know that some of them, like kale and spinach, are specifically good for our dental health too, being high in calcium and folic acid. Add some to a salad, stir into a pasta sauce or hide them from fussy eaters by disguising them in a pizza topping!
Eating a piece of cheese at the end of a meal raises the pH in your mouth, making it less acidic and less likely prone to tooth decay. It’s also good for strengthening tooth enamel as it contains calcium and protein.
Here’s an easy dessert which is high in calcium and protein, strengthening tooth enamel. Yoghurt also contains ‘good’ bacteria which are good for your gums, making it harder for cavity causing bacteria to take hold. Just remember to go for a plain variety with no added sugar.
Apples taste sweet and do contain sugar but they are also high in fibre and are made up of lots of water. Chomping on a crisp apple at the end of a meal increases saliva production, rinsing away food particles and bacteria. Eating an apple a day is no substitute for cleaning your teeth but it’s a good habit to get into. Whole foods, fruit, vegetables all contain natural sugar. However, all the sugar in fruits is contained in little bags called cells. When you eat the whole fruit these cells protect the tooth and the sugar goes straight past your teeth into your stomach. If you break down the cells for example in a fruit juice or smoothie, when you drink them you basically bathe your teeth in sugar, feeding the bacteria that attack your teeth.
If you don’t like eating raw apples, perhaps you prefer a crunchy carrot. Just like apples, carrots are high in fibre and chewing them raw increases saliva in your mouth, lowering your risk of decay. Some people say they help you see in the dark! Even if they don’t actually give you night vision, they’re still high in vitamin A, which is good for your gums as well as for your eye health too.
Just like apples and carrots, eating celery is a good way of getting rid of tiny bits of food and bacteria that cling to your teeth. It scores highly for vitamins A & C too, which are both good for your gums.
If you crave sweet things, these nuts can be a good compromise. They are low in sugar but still very tasty and they are high in calcium and protein too. You can eat them on their own, add a few to a salad or throw some into a stir fry for a crunchy change.
Sugar free chewing gum
Not really a food, but it has been proven to help prevent tooth decay if you chew it after meals as it helps your mouth produce more saliva, neutralising the acids in your mouth after eating and drinking. Make sure it’s sugar free though!