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Chew on This: Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth and Gums

Chew on This: Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth and Gums

When choosing what foods to put in our mouths, we often give tons of consideration to our waistline. But do you ever give a thought to your oral health?

Read More: The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth and Gums Slideshow

Even if you’re brushing and flossing daily, the foods we choose to chomp on can also affect the state of your teeth and gums.

The minute you begin eating certain foods, bacteria in your mouth converts sugar to acids, according to WebMD. It’s those acids that attack the enamel on your teeth, which starts the decay process. The good news is you have the ability to choose what you consume, and while some foods are terrible for your oral health, there are plenty that benefit your teeth.

— Jaclyn Bertner, HellaWella

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Originally published 1/14/13


The 30 Best Foods for Healthy Teeth and Gums

Teeth are important! No wonder most of us take a really good care of them. Brushing, flossing, scraping our tongue, using mouthwash, we do a lot. Our mouth might very well be the part of our body we take the most care of and yet tooth decay and gum disease are still some of the most prevalent diseases in the world. How come? The answer might hide in the fridge!

Surprising or not, the difference between a healthy smile and frequent visits to the dentist might be your diet. Even if you have a perfect oral hygiene routine, it might be hard to keep your teeth healthy, if you don’t watch what you eat.

Too often, we see food as being only the villain when it comes to oral health. After all, it’s sugars and acids from food and drinks that do most of the damage to our teeth. However, there are many types of food that not only don’t harm your teeth as much but can even give a big boost to your oral health.

From preventing cavities and periodontal disease to even freshening your breath and whitening your teeth, the foods on this list can match the claims of the fanciest toothpaste and mouthwashes on the market. Most of them are actually pretty tasty as well, so take out your shopping list and get ready to add some teeth-friendly goodies.


Cheese

Research published in the journal General Dentistry earlier this year reported that 12- to 15-year-olds who ate cheddar cheese had lower acid levels in their mouths than those who ate sugar-free yogurt or drank a glass of milk.

After eating the foods, the adolescents and teens rinsed their mouths with water. The acid, or pH, levels in their mouths were then measured 10, 20 and 30 minutes after rinsing. Those who drank milk or ate yogurt showed no change in their pH levels, but the cheese eaters had a rapid drop at each measurement interval.

Cheese may neutralize the plaque acid, said Wu, who was not involved in the cheese study. What's more, chewing increases saliva production. "Like a river, saliva washes out some of the bacteria in the mouth," she said.


Keeping Canine Teeth Healthy -- The 5 Best and Worst Chews for Your Dog

Of course you love spoiling your pet! But before giving your dog a chew toy, take a closer look. Could it cause the chipping or fracturing of all-important canine teeth?

Dr. Eva Evans, a veterinarian who provides emergency after-hours care at Rivergate Pet Emergency Clinic in Nashville, says the toys and treats to avoid are those with a hard texture. "Avoid giving your dog metal, hard plastic, bones or other extremely firm objects, as these are most likely to result in a painful, broken tooth," she says. "Oftentimes, dogs enjoy chewing so much that they will overdo it and can cause dental trauma to the mouth."

The Worst Chew Toys and Treats for Dogs
If you can't break it in half, it's too hard and not a good choice for your dog. With that in mind, here are 5 things to avoid:

  1. Animal Chews
    Bones, hooves and antlers are rigid and may lead to chipped or broken teeth, according to Dr. Evans. Bones can splinter and pierce the dog's mouth or become a choking hazard. Some animal chews may also become sharp when the ends are whittled down by chewing.
  2. Tennis Balls
    Although these tend to be a popular play item, Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, a veterinarian with Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado, says, "The woolly nylon fuzz on tennis balls is abrasive and can wear down the enamel on dogs' teeth." In addition, the fuzz can harbor grit and tiny pebbles when outdoors, creating an even more abrasive texture.
  3. Compressed Rawhide
    Beware of chemical processing and bacterial contamination with these. Also, Wooten cautions that "compressed forms of rawhide are very hard, and can cause tooth fractures."
  4. Corn Starch Chews
    If you're avoiding animal chews for your dog, these may seem like healthier treats. But, Wooten says, in addition to corn being a common dog allergen, these are really hard and have been known to break teeth or become choking hazards as small pieces break off the treat.
  5. Ice Cubes
    While you may want to help your pet cool off, don't offer ice cubes. "They can render teeth brittle and more susceptible to fractures," according to Dr. Deborah W. Fegan, owner of Big Creek Pet Hospital in Cleveland.

Better Chew Choices
The best chew treat and toys for your dog are large enough so as not to present a choking hazard. You'll also want to look for those that don't splinter and some that may even offer a dental health benefit. "Be sure to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval on any dental treat that you purchase," Dr. Evans advises. "VOHC certifies treats and toys that are proven to reduce plaque and tartar on your pet's teeth."

Drs. Evans, Wooten and Fegan recommend the following to dog owners and dog sitters to keep canine teeth healthy:

  1. Rubber Toys
    The smooth surfaces offer some flexibility when chewed and won't collect tooth-chipping debris. As a bonus, they can be filled with a mix of hard kibble and soft dog food to keep the pet engaged longer with the toy.
  2. Fresh Produce
    Seedless apple slices and raw carrots provide both vitamins and chewing entertainment.
  3. Dental Treats
    Chews infused with medication to keep the pet's teeth clean are a bonus. Dr. Fegan suggests products with 10 percent Chlorhexdine Gluconate, which she says provides "an antimicrobial action."
  4. Bully Sticks
    These jerky-style treats are chewy, so dogs aren't at risk for hurting their teeth, according to Dr. Wooten.
  5. Pressed Pork Hide
    Pig-based chews are high in protein, low-fat, easily digestible and softer than cow rawhide, making them ideal, say Dr. Wooten.


What To Do if Your Dog Hurts a Tooth
Be cautious examining your dog's mouth. "The pain may cause your otherwise gentle pet to snap or even bite you," Dr. Fegan warns. Help your pet feel better by applying a cold compress to the outer cheek near the injury, which can minimize swelling, bleeding and pain. Dr. Fegan also says it's safe to give your pet aspirin. Seek vet instructions on proper dosage. If a tooth is loose or bleeding, get immediate attention.

"The best thing you can do is check your pet's teeth periodically and have a full dental exam with your veterinarian annually in young pets and every six months if your pet is older," Dr, Evans notes. "If you notice anything unusual, including blood, chipped or broken teeth, excessive wear, discolored teeth, or anything abnormal, be sure to have your pet's mouth examined."

Angela Tague writes about parenting, pet care and being a home-based writer. She and her husband live in Iowa with a bositerous Bull Terrier mix and a wacky Weimaraner.


The 8 Best (And 8 Worst!) Foods For Dentures

If you've traded in your original teeth for a full or partial set of dentures, maintaining your usual diet can come with a special set of challenges. "Dentures are not a replacement for teeth insofar as restoring complete function," says Edmond Hewlett, DDS, professor of restorative dentistry at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry and spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

But before you think that wearing dentures has to mean giving up all your favorite foods, take heart: The key to learning to live with your prosthetic chompers is a bit of creativity and patience&mdashnot deprivation. "You can find new ways of enjoying foods you previously included in your diet," say Dr. Hewlett.

Here's what to eat, what to skip, and what to tweak for stress-free munching.

While your morning Joe won't hurt in moderation&mdashand won't stain dentures any more than it will natural teeth&mdashlarge amounts can be dehydrating, meaning more dry mouth.

Better bite: Curb the caffeine or switch to decaf If you need your coffee, just be sure you're also getting an adequate amount of non-diuretic fluids to help with saliva flow and comfort, says Dr. Hewlett. Denture wearers need to be especially vigilant about keeping a moist mouth, because without plenty of lubricating saliva, the friction from dentures will irritate the gums, says Dr. Hewlett.

More from Prevention: 25 Foods Dentists Won't Eat

Everyone knows that a piece of popcorn lodged in your teeth can be real hull (ahem), and it&rsquos no exception with dentures. "Anything with hard or sharp bits can be especially tough on denture wearers," says Dr. Hewlett, as getting hard bits of food stuck beneath the dentures can be extremely painful.

Better bite: Air-puffed veggie crisps If you're craving a salty snack, try trading popcorn for veggie chips. But beware, Dr. Hewlett cautions. "Some brands get sticky as you chew them, and this can be especially so for denture wearers who may have low saliva flow." Remember to drink plenty of fluids to increase saliva production, especially if you're indulging in salty snacks. You need enough moisture in your mouth to maintain a seal, similar to a suction cup, to keep the denture from slipping.

Dentists aren't a fan of chewy, sticky candy for anyone, but especially for those with dentures: Anything sticky is almost guaranteed to dislodge your teeth.

Better bite: Sugar-free gum For a sweet treat that won't wreck your teeth, pop some sugar-free gum. Bonus? Chewing gum can help with saliva production. "Finding the brand that works best with your particular denture is a matter of trial and error," say Dr. Hewlett. Wrigley's Freedent gum is one popular pick among denture wearers.

Nuts about nuts? You might want to hold back, Dr. Hewlett suggests. In addition to having little (painful) pieces that can get under your partials, the way you eat nuts can make dentures unstable, he says. Why? Chewing on both sides of the mouth is a must for denture-wearers&mdashchewing on just one side ups risk of the dentures coming loose or one side flipping up&mdashbut because most people only eat a couple nuts at once, they typically only chew on one side.

Better bite: Pitted olives Easier to chew, yet still containing heart-healthy fats that help to lower cholesterol, pitted olives are a good replacement for nuts, says Dr. Hewlett. "Fresh seedless grapes and berries are also tasty and nutritious denture-friendly snacks."

You might love the nutty flavor of poppy seeds, but if you wear dentures, steer clear. "There's nothing worse than getting a seed stuck under your dentures," says Dr. Hewlett. "It's like having a stone in your shoe."

Better bite: Baked in goodness Replace those seeded buns with whole grain bread that has the grains baked in.

A big bite of hard-to-chew food like steak might be more than you can take on with dentures. Biting into tough foods can destabilize the teeth, upping the possibility of dislodging them. Plus, the additional pressure required to chew larger pieces of firm foods can also create sore spots under the dentures, says Dr. Hewlett.

Better bite: Piece meal "Cutting up your meat into small pieces is certainly a way to enjoy it without giving it up," says Dr. Hewlett. Ground meats, chicken, and fish are also easier to handle. (Get the most out of your seafood with these 5 healthy recipes.)

While no one should eliminate fruits and veggies from their diet, some particularly hard fruits and vegetables, like carrots, apples, and corn-on-the-cob, might be a problem for denture wearers, says Dr. Hewlett. Biting into hard foods puts a whole lot of pressure on the incisors (front teeth), which can dislodge the dentures.

Better bite: Whole fruit smoothie Pureeing the whole fruit&mdashincluding the skin&mdashis the best way to ensure none of those essential elements go missing from your diet. (May we suggest these 25 super smoothie recipes?) When it comes to corn-on-the-cob, simply cut the corn from the cob to still enjoy the fresh taste.

"Peanut butter sticks to all surfaces," says Dr. Hewlett. And while you can work it off natural teeth with your tongue, it's not so easy with dentures, he says.

Better bite: Hummus Choose non-sticky, protein-rich spreads such as hummus, tapenades, and spreadable salads (tuna, salmon, chicken, egg) to enjoy with your whole wheat breads and crackers, recommends Dr. Hewlett. (Hungry for hummus? Check out 4 new ways to dabble with the dip.)


Go Ahead, Indulge in These Foods:

Eating for oral health is easier than you might think, as a lot of the same foods that are recommended for overall wellness will also be great for your teeth. Plus, eating the right foods, some of which are listed below, can help undo some of the damage that&rsquos caused by indulging in the wrong foods for your teeth.

High-fiber foods: Foods that are high in fiber, such as crunchy vegetables, leafy greens, and fruit, are a great choice for teeth because you have to really chew on them before you swallow. Chewing not only helps break down your food, it also promotes the production of saliva, which naturally helps keep your mouth clean. And if you eat crunchy vegetables and fruits that have a tough exterior, they can also serve as a sort of brush for your teeth as you eat.

Watery foods: Many fruits and vegetables, such as apples and celery, have a good amount of water in them, so that will help reduce the negative effects of any of the natural sugar that they may contain. Plus, they stimulate saliva flow, further protecting against tooth decay by helping to buffer acid and rinse away food debris.

Calcium-rich foods: Foods that are high in calcium, such as leafy green vegetables and dairy products, can help to maintain the strength of your enamel. Yogurt that is low in sugar might also be beneficial, as it contains protein, calcium, and probiotics, all of which could help to keep your teeth and gums strong.

Nuts: Munching on nuts, such as almonds, could be good for your teeth, thanks to the protein and calcium in these foods. Plus, nuts are low in sugar and they contain healthy fats and phosphorus, which can help you maintain a beautiful smile and healthy gums.


Other People's Toothbrushes

Shutterstock

Forgot your toothbrush on a sleepover? Don't even think about using someone else's. Toothbrushes are breeding grounds for potentially unhealthy microorganisms. Brushing with a contaminated toothbrush can expose you to the following: (1) decay-causing bacteria like streptococcus mutans, (2) a bacteria that causes periodontal disease, which can lead to bleeding gums, tooth and bone loss, (3) cold and flu viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and (4) though rare, blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis.


Celery

Shutterstock

Similar to carrots, Dr. Cattanese pointed out that celery is also hard in texture, so it will serve as a toothbrush for your teeth. This is especially because you'll find yourself chomping away on the nutritious vegetable, which will yield more saliva in the mouth.

Vitamin C-packed celery is also filled with antioxidants that can help with gum health, as well as prevent inflammation. Try celery as a snack with peanut butter or cream cheese, or toss it in your favorite soup recipe.


While we’re on the topic of stained teeth, while blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are high in antioxidants, they are also hyper-pigmented. That pigmentation, which gives them their gorgeous jewel tones, also makes them an enemy of the mouth. When berries are allowed to sit in the mouth, their dark colors can stain your teeth. That doesn’t just go for the fruit itself, but for foods that contain them, such as muffins, pies, and syrups.

If you don’t want your teeth to get discolored, you need to get the pigmentation off them as soon as you’re done eating. Brushing is the best way to do that. But since many of these berries also contain very small seeds, pay extra attention to the strength with which you brush. You should always brush gently as if you are polishing a pearl. Your enamel is fragile, and rough brushing or scrubbing the seeds across your teeth can wear enamel away over time.


Raw vegetables can be challenging for seniors without teeth. When cooking vegetables, try using a steamer instead of boiling them. Steaming helps retain the vegetable’s nutrients, as opposed to boiling that leaves most of the vitamins in the cooking water.

Smoothies are a great way to boost your diet, plus there’s no chewing required. Blend up your favorite fresh (or frozen) fruits, plain Greek yogurt, milk (can also use dairy-free milk), and any additional supplements (chia seeds, flax meal, acai powder, etc.). You can even add fresh spinach for a superfood boost – we promise you won’t even taste it!


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