Brush twice a day, floss often, use mouthwash…and eat? The secret to healthy teeth for life might be in the refrigerator. Certain foods can help prevent cavities and tooth decay, keep plaque (sticky bacteria filled-film that can cover the teeth and gums) at bay and even freshen breath. Read on to learn how to impress the dentist by incorporating tooth-friendly foods into every meal.
The best foods
Milk and eggs: You might have guessed milk would be on this list. Dairy products like milk and egg yolks are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D. The body requires a dose of vitamin D to absorb calcium, which in turn strengthens bones and teeth. Not into milk? There are plenty of non-dairy alternatives.
Cheese and yogurt: Foods rich in calcium and phosphorus can protect tooth enamel and even help replace minerals in teeth. Low-fat cheese and plain nonfat yogurt are classic calcium-rich choices.
Meat, fish and tofu: Meat, fatty fish (like salmon) and tofu are loaded with phosphorus, another important mineral that may protect tooth enamel. Homemade broth made from meat bones is a particular good source of this essential mineral.
Broccoli, bok choy and other dark, leafy veggies: Looking for vegetarian-friendly sources for the minerals we’ve mentioned? Broccoli, bok choy, kale, okra, collards and other dark, leafy veggies are excellent animal-free ways to get plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Celery, carrots and other crunchy veggies: Just like the rest of your body, teeth require a little work every now and then to stay sharp. Crunchy, firm foods that contain lots of water (and require lots of chewing) are good for oral health because they stimulate the flow of saliva and can actually scrub tooth surfaces, brightening your pearly whites.
Artificial sweeteners: Whether artificial sweeteners are safe is still up for debate, but some dentists might be in the “pro” camp. Some fake sweeteners, like Xylitol, can actually prevent cavities.
Apples: Apples and other high-fiber fruits can scrub away plaque and freshen breath (so hit up the produce stand before heading to a hot date).
The worst foods
Lime, lemons, oranges and grapefruit: It’s no surprise that citrus is loaded with citric acid. Strong acids (foods with a low pH rating) are the number one cause of enamel erosion and tooth decay. But if you just can’t go without a glass of Florida O.J. in the morning, minimize your acid exposure by drinking the juice in one sitting (aka not sipping for hours).
Pickles: Pickles are tasty on a sandwich, but the combination of super-acidic vinegar and sugar is a recipe for enamel erosion.
Coffee: Sorry, coffee addicts. Not so surprisingly, that morning cup (or three) of joe puts oral health at risk. The tannic acids in coffee (and some teas) wear down enamel and can even stain teeth brown. But if you refuse to give up your brew, take heart: Coffee does have several health benefits.
Red wine: Studies show a glass of red wine every once in a while can be good for the heart and cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, anyone who’s ever experienced “wine teeth” knows that the purplish beverage can stain quite easily.
Tomatoes: They might make taste buds happy all summer long, but tomatoes are less beneficial for teeth. Both raw and in sauce form, tomatoes are pretty acidic. The solution? Eat them as part of a meal to get the health benefits, and avoid the dental issues.
Soda: We already know that soda is bad for happiness and health. The combination of sugar, acids and carbonation is a death sentence for teeth.
Candy: The sweet stuff can cause cavities and get stuck in crevices (becoming tasty fodder for bacteria). Hard candies are particularly bad for your pearly whites. Lollipops, mints and any other sugary treats (even cough drops) that linger in the mouth expose teeth to sugar and acids for a long period of time. They’re much worse than a sugary treat that’s quickly chewed and swallowed.
Dried fruit: Though yummy in granola or energy bars, dried fruit is a perfect storm of stickiness and chewiness. The gooey bits are practically made for getting stuck between teeth, and most dried fruits (even those without added sugars) are off-the-charts sweet.