Good news: You can keep your glass of red wine (in moderation).
When you try a new recipe, grab a snack, or order a drink at a coffee shop, chances are, you consider the nutrition of what you’re about to consume and how healthy it will be for your body. But when’s the last time you thought about how what you eat or drink will affect your oral health?
“By and large, most people are probably not thinking about how foods they eat are affecting their teeth,” says Dr. Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, chief clinical officer for SmileDirectClub. While there are many things that influence healthy teeth and gums, diet does weigh heavily on this, he says. Over a long period of time, eating excess amounts of foods that are bad for your teeth can have detrimental effects, like making you more susceptible to dental decay, cavities, and even periodontal disease.
But eating a diet that’s good for our mouths doesn’t have to be difficult. “There’s a very close link between what’s healthy for your teeth and gums being healthy for your overall health,” says Dr. Sulitzer.
With that in mind, here are the best and worst foods for your teeth.
Best Foods for Your Teeth
The formation of bone is similar to the formation of teeth, so foods that are good for your bones are typically good for your teeth as well, says Dr. Sulitzer. This includes foods that are rich in calcium, such as cheese, almonds, and leafy green vegetables. Foods that contain phosphorus, like meat, eggs, and fish, also work to help strengthen tooth enamel and dentin (the dense tissue beneath the enamel).
Worried about your LaCroix habit damaging your teeth? Don’t be. “The effervescence could create some damage to your enamel long-term, but in moderation, I’m not concerned about it,” says Dr. Sulitzer. If you crave bubbles, [sparkling water] is a good alternative to a sugary soft drink.
Worst Foods for Your Teeth
Starchy foods—such as potato chips, pretzels, cookies and other snack foods—not only contribute to a wider waistline in excess; they can also be the culprit of cavities and other dental problems.
“Those carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, and if those sugars remain in the deep grooves of the biting parts of your teeth, that gives the bacteria that’s normally located on these teeth a chance to metabolize those sugars over time,” says Dr. Sulitzer. That’s what creates cavities.
Typical beverages you might think contribute to teeth discoloration, like coffee and red wine, are not actually that bad in moderation, says Dr. Sulitzer. With heavy consumption over a long period of time, they will cause stains, he says, but overall, you shouldn’t be too concerned. (If you’re worried about the acid in your morning cup of Joe affecting your enamel, here’s how to tell if you should make the switch to low-acid coffee.)
Citrus is another food that’s commonly perceived as being bad for your teeth, because of the acid component. Yet Dr. Sulitzer debunks this, too, saying the healthy benefits of eating fruits like oranges and grapefruit outweigh any negative effects on your teeth, as long as you’re not going overboard. Fruit juices, however—along with sugary beverages like soda or sweet tea—can cause damage to your teeth, for the same reason as starchy foods.
How to Eat for Dental Health
The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice and flossing once each day. However, “that’s not nearly enough,” says Dr. Sulitzer. He advises brushing your teeth and gums at least three times a day, or once after each meal. If you don’t have the option to brush, rinsing with warm water post-meal will dislodge a lot of the debris left on your teeth, he says.
Overall, you should follow the same general principles for maintaining oral healthy as you would for your overall health. “Think of the mouth and body as one,” he says,” and eat accordingly.”