Healthy Food for Healthy Teeth

by: Dr. Tom Swanlund

Healthy food choices are important to sustain excellent general health as well as your oral health. The vitamins and minerals that come from healthy foods can help you fight cavities and prevent gum disease.

Tips to Protect Your Teeth from Cavities

  • If possible brush after eating or drinking at any time of the day
  • Limit eating between meals, especially foods high in sugar/carbohydrates
  • Eat sweets at mealtimes when there is plenty of saliva in your mouth to wash away sugars and acids which can cause cavities
  • Try to cut down on the sugar and simple carbohydrates you eat.
  • Choose drinks low in sugar and acid, water is best!
  • If you snack between meals, drink water to wash the food away and buffer the mouth
  • If you eat between meals chew a piece of sugarless gum after which will help you produce saliva to wash the mouth

Sugars and How Cavities Form

Sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay. Foods high in sugar include pop, chocolate bars, pastries, and baked food. Ingredients such as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose-glucose, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and sucrose are all different types of sugar. Many healthy foods such as dried fruit, milk, breads, crackers, cereal, and pasta also break down in the mouth into sugars. The sugars found in healthy foods are essential since they give our body energy; the problem is that they can increase our risk of cavities.

Cavities start with plaque which is the invisible film that is made of food and bacteria; it is naturally occurring and forms on a daily basis. Some bacteria in the plaque are harmless but some are not causing cavities or gum disease. When plaque accumulates on teeth due to lack of flossing it sets the stage for dental cavities. When sugar you eat mixes with the bacteria in the plaque a mild acid is produced which has the ability to break down the outermost layer of the tooth called enamel. Over time the enamel can become softer and a cavity forms.

Sugar is more damaging when it is eaten often and the longer it stays in the mouth. Saliva in your mouth can help protect your teeth against the damaging acid by buffering it. When you eat your mouth produces saliva which can help neutralize the acid produced by sugars. In between meals your mouth does not produce as much saliva so eating between meals without brushing can increase your risk of tooth decay.