Nutrition for Dental Health

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What to Eat for Healthy Teeth

A nutritious diet can ward off cavities and gum disease. Here's what you should eat for good dental health.

Your mom and your dentist have both probably warned you that eating sugary foods can harm your teeth. They are right.

What foods we do - and don't - eat can greatly affect our oral health. This is especially true for children, but is also important for adults:

  • Toddlers: Good nutrition helps healthy teeth and gums develop.
  • Children and teens: Eating well keeps cavities (dental caries) at bay.
  • Adults: Healthy foods help prevent periodontal (gum) disease.

The nutrition and dental health relationship works the other way, too. Without a healthy mouth, you couldn't chew or swallow foods and absorb vital nutrients. Also, some research has shown a link between gum disease and your risk for heart disease.

Food for teeth
A good diet for dental health is no different than a diet that is nutritious for the rest of the body. Both the American Dietetic Association and the American Dental Association stress the importance of good nutrition for oral health. This means a diet that's rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy and lean protein. Limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugars.

These nutrients are key for a healthy mouth:

  • Protein helps teeth form. Kids who don't get enough protein and are malnourished have a higher risk for cavities. Choose lean sources of protein like fish, chicken and beans. These foods are also high in iron, magnesium and zinc, which help to build teeth and bones.
  • Calcium and vitamin D strengthen teeth and bones. Low-fat and nonfat dairy products are high in both nutrients. Calcium can also be found in dark leafy greens and beans.
  • Vitamin A helps tooth and enamel form. Orange fruits and vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A.
  • Vitamin B helps keep gum tissue healthy. Whole-grain breads and cereals and green, leafy vegetables contain vitamin B.
  • Vitamin C helps maintain gums and keeps soft tissue healthy. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.
  • Vitamin K keeps gums healthy and controls bleeding. Dark leafy greens are good sources of vitamin K.
  • Fluoride protects tooth enamel, which makes it harder to break down. This lowers the risk of cavities. Tap water and toothpaste usually contain fluoride. If you drink only bottled water, ask your dentist about a fluoride supplement.

Rein in your sweet tooth
Sugary and starchy foods release damaging acids that harm your teeth and lead to cavities and gum disease. Foods that are chewy, gooey, sticky or dissolve slowly do even more damage because they stay in your mouth longer. Caffeinated, carbonated and acidic drinks also hurt teeth.

Limit these items:

  • Sugary foods like candy, cake and cookies. Try to avoid chewy and sticky items like hard candies, caramels, taffy, granola bars and dried fruit. Watch for hidden sources of sugar in things like salad dressing, peanut butter and tomato sauce.
  • Starchy, processed foods such as chips, pretzels and crackers.
  • Drinks high in sugar, including soda, sports drinks and juices.

Always brush your teeth right after eating foods high in sugar.

Healthy snacking
If you must have sweets, eat them right after a meal instead of as snacks. The damaging acids released by sugary foods stay in your mouth for 20 minutes before they break down. The more often you eat sugar-filled snacks, the more frequently acids develop that can harm your teeth. Instead, choose nutritious snacks - like fruits, vegetables and nuts - over sweet items.

More dental health tips
In addition to good nutrition, follow these tips for a healthy smile:

  • Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice each day.
  • Floss once each day.
  • Don't smoke. If you do, quit.
  • See your dentist regularly for checkups.
Updated on 03/24/2010 SOURCES:
  • American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: oral health and nutrition. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007;107:1418-1428.
  • American Dental Hygienists' Association. Fluoride facts. Accessed: 03/08/2010
  • American Dental Association. Diet and oral health. Accessed: 03/08/2010
  • American Dental Association. Study links gum disease, heart attack risk independent of smoking. Accessed: 03/08/2010
  • Genco R, Offenbacher S, Beck J. Periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2002;133(Suppl 1):14S-22S.
  • American Dental Hygienists' Association. Oral health nutrition. Accessed: 03/08/2010
  • American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Diet and snacking. Accessed: 03/08/2010
  • California Childcare Health Program. Good nutrition and healthy smiles. Accessed: 02/08/2010

Author: Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Disclaimer: The information about educational or therapeutic approaches is provided for educational purposes only. Certain treatments may or may not be covered through your benefit plan. Coverage typically depends on your plan specifications and relevant guidelines maintained in relation to your benefit plan.

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