Oral health affects the ability to smile, talk, chew and more—so it's no surprise that one study found a correlation between oral health and mental wellbeing. Dental diseases, such as cavities, periodontal diseases and gingivitis, cause pain and disability for millions of people across the globe each year, and research has linked poor oral hygiene to heart disease, diabetes and even pregnancy complications. A variety of minerals and essential nutrients positively impact teeth and gums, and a few easy dietary changes and increased water consumption can make a world of difference when it comes to oral health.
When someone thinks of healthy bones and teeth, dairy products are often the first thing that comes to mind. Rich in calcium and casein, dairy products like milk and cheese offer nutrients vital to dental health. Consumption of calcium is correlated with strong tooth enamel and is thought to help prevent cavities and decay. Recent research suggests that the can prevent deep cavities from forming in tooth surfaces. Dairy products also promote excess saliva production, another protective factor against cavities.
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are important for overall health, but these plants may also be the key to maintaining proper dental health. Recent studies found that diets high in vegetables were associated with lower risks for tooth loss and periodontal disease. Vegetables are high in antioxidants and dietary fiber, both of which contribute to lower levels of inflammation biomarkers and oxidative stress, leading to healthier teeth and gums. Additionally, plants like apples and carrots act as natural toothbrushes— the fibrous textures help scrub away food particles and plaque from teeth.
Never underestimate the power of water when it comes to oral health and dental hygiene—choosing water instead of a sugary beverage leads to a significant decrease in the risk of periodontal disease and cavities. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and carbohydrates, causing small holes to form in the enamel of teeth. When water washes away these leftover food particles, there is nothing left for bacteria to feed on. This, coupled with water's pH-balancing properties, creates a strong case against soda and other sugary beverages.
Nuts and lean proteins provide essential minerals for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, nuts may help prevent plaque from building up on teeth while simultaneously strengthening enamel. These foods are also low in carbohydrates, which are thought to be a leading cause of dental cavities.
Foods rich in vitamin C offer a plethora of protective benefits for oral health. Vitamin C protects against bacteria overgrowth and degenerative gum diseases; some studies have found that low vitamin C levels can lead to bleeding gums regardless of dental hygiene. In one study, people with low levels of vitamin C displayed more severe periodontal diseases than their peers with higher concentrations of the vitamin in their blood. Those looking to increase vitamin C in their diet should reach for foods like strawberries, citrus fruits and tomatoes.
While calcium is seen as a powerhouse when it comes to tooth health, it is nothing without its trusty sidekick vitamin D. In the body, the proteins that transport calcium into bones require vitamin D to function properly; without the vitamin, the body cannot process calcium and the mineral simply passes through unabsorbed. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to two major dental complications—tooth decay and periodontitis. Unfortunately, vitamin D doesn't occur naturally in many foods, but easy dietary additions include fortified cereal, supplements and fatty fish.
Calcium plays an important role in developing tooth enamel, but without magnesium, only soft enamel would be able to form. Like vitamin D, magnesium helps the body absorb calcium within the teeth, allowing the mineral to harden and form a protective barrier against foods and acids in the mouth. Low magnesium levels can lead to problems such as premature tooth loss and bone resorption, as magnesium is responsible for remineralizing teeth during structural development. Some magnesium-rich foods include spinach, edamame and black beans.
Fluoride has been the center of controversy for many decades now, with some people suggesting that fluoride contributes to bone disease and osteoporosis. Research, however, finds these claims to be true only in extreme overconsumption of the mineral. Generally, fluoride in tap water and natural foods helps to strengthen the hard enamel of teeth, preventing cavities and increasing oral health. One study found that fluoride treatments can decrease cavity risk by up to 25% and even help reverse cavities that had already formed.
Green and black tea are both high in polyphenols, compounds that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation within the body. More broadly referred to as antioxidants, these compounds are correlated with improved gum tissue health, decreased oral bacteria and increased resistance against acidic damage, all of which help reduce plaque and cavities. Several studies also found the polyphenols found in green and black teas to be protective against a myriad of oral cancers.
Forgot a toothbrush when traveling? Not a problem, as crunchy vegetables offer a natural solution to plaque and particle buildup. Crunchy vegetables such as celery and carrots are natural tooth cleaners and are excellent at removing excess food particles from on and between teeth. These foods also stimulate saliva production, which provides a protective covering for the enamel of the teeth.
Leafy greens like spinach and kale are often touted for their health benefits, but they are also essential for good oral health. High in calcium, B vitamins, iron and folic acids, leafy greens offer protection against tooth decay and periodontal diseases by strengthening enamel, fortifying the gum tissue and preventing bacteria buildup in the mouth.
Apples and pears, while high in sugar, offer a multitude of dental health benefits. The fibrous texture of pears and apples stimulates the gums to increase salvia flow, which helps neutralize unwanted acid in the mouth. Acid is a leading cause of enamel erosion; studies have suggested that a highly acidic mouth pH is strongly correlated with chronic periodontitis and chronic gingivitis. With this in mind, pears and apples are a great choice when combatting an acidic oral pH.
Nuts are packed with calcium, phosphorous and magnesium, all of which are essential for healthy teeth and gums. These minerals work together to strengthen enamel and remineralize teeth, which is the first line of defense in cavity prevention. Additionally, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews help fight bacteria overgrowth that leads to chronic enamel decay.
Meat and fatty fish provide vital nutrients for oral health, including phosphorus and protein. Often overlooked in oral health regimens, phosphorus is a natural protectant for teeth as it is instrumental in the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells in the body. The mineral also helps the body absorb other vital nutrients, such as calcium, and is crucial as it rebuilds enamel from the inside out.
Tea and coffee get a bad rap for discoloring teeth, but these drinks offer a myriad of benefits for oral health. Recent research found that enzymes in coffee help protect against decay-causing bacteria. One study suggests that three cups of black coffee per day significantly reduces the occurrence of cavities; however, the presence of additives such as milk or sugar completely neutralizes the benefits.
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