Published: 12/21/2023
Photo by Miriam Alonso

Even if you have your dental routine down, brushing and flossing consistently and seeing the dentist regularly, your teeth can suffer if you don’t have your diet in order. A healthy diet is vital for a healthy mouth and strong teeth. Here’s how the diet impacts dental health and how to promote a strong, healthy smile.

How Diet Impacts Dental Health

The foods you eat provide nutrients to help build strong, healthy teeth. Essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C, and D are key. For instance, calcium and phosphorus are major components of tooth enamel. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. And, vitamins A, C, and D are essential for maintaining the health of your gums and other oral tissues.

As important as what you eat is what you don’t. The connection between foods that are high in sugars and refined carbohydrates and tooth decay is well known. When these types of foods are eaten, bacteria within the mouth help break them down. Unfortunately, plaque acids that can erode tooth enamel are produced during the process. That’s why dentists, hygienists, and doctors recommend limiting sugary snacks and drinks.

Nutrient-rich foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, can be acidic. When eaten regularly, especially if you aren’t brushing soon after eating, acidic foods can wear away tooth enamel over time. You don’t have to skip these healthy and delicious foods. But you may want to eat them in moderation and ensure you practice good oral hygiene to help prevent any issues.

Saliva is also important for neutralizing acids and helps wash away food particles after you eat. So, foods that help increase the production of saliva, like high-fiber veggies and fruits, can help protect the teeth. Drinking plenty of water is also good for your oral health.

8 Foods to Improve Your Oral Health

A number of foods can directly impact your dental health.

  1. Crunchy vegetables like carrots and celery are excellent as you really need to chew them, which helps clean the surface of your teeth.
  2. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce are high in calcium, folic acid, and other essential vitamins and minerals that benefit the teeth and gums.
  3. Apples and pears can increase saliva in the mouth to help neutralize acids. The fiber found in apples may also help stimulate the gums and reduce bacteria that can lead to cavities.
  4. Nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts, and Brazil nuts are high in teeth-strengthening nutrients like calcium and phosphorous. They’re also a healthy snack that’s low in sugar.
  5. Fatty fish are a rich source of phosphorus, which is crucial for protecting tooth enamel. They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote the health of your gums and oral tissues.
  6. Dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheeses are high in calcium to strengthen teeth and bones. These foods also provide casein, which is a protein that helps neutralize the plaque acids that can lead to tooth decay.
  7. Cranberries and raisins (fresh and sugar-free) are not only a sweet treat, they are also high in oleanolic acid, which may help suppress the growth of bacteria associated with an increased risk of cavities and gum disease.
  8. Water helps wash away food particles and keeps the mouth hydrated, which can decrease the risk of cavities. Most tap water also has fluoride added, which has been shown to strengthen teeth and reduce the risk of cavities.

Dental Health Tips for Special Diets

You may be following a specific diet due to allergies or intolerances to particular foods or for health reasons. For instance, you may be following a gluten- or dairy-free diet, or you may follow a vegan, vegetarian, or ketogenic diet. Limiting certain foods could impact your oral health.

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you could miss out on B vitamins, fiber, iron, and calcium, which are necessary for strong teeth and healthy gums. It’s important to ensure you’re getting gluten-free whole grains like quinoa and brown rice in your diet, as well as leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, to ensure you’re consuming these nutrients.

For people who don’t tolerate dairy well or choose to forego it, you may lack calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus, which are vital not only for strong teeth but also for strong bones. You can still find plenty of foods that provide these nutrients, such as fortified plant-based milks (e.g., almond, soy, or oat), leafy greens, almonds, and tofu. Do, however, also consider supplementing with vitamin D.

People following a ketogenic diet often find it difficult to get enough vitamins A, C, and D and fiber, which are crucial for gum health. Ensure you are consuming adequate levels of low-carb vegetables like spinach and kale as they’re rich in fiber. Also, eat fatty fish and mushrooms, and consider supplementation to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

Vegan diets can provide low levels of vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Again, you’ll want to add fortified plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, leafy greens, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts to your diet. A vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplement may also be warranted.

No matter what diet you follow, it’s important to focus on eating a variety of whole foods, which provide a wide range of nutrients.

How Diet Impacts Dental Health Takeaway

Yes, it’s important to maintain a consistent dental hygiene routine, including brushing and flossing. And regular visits to your dentist are also important to keep your teeth strong and your mouth healthy. But don’t forget about your diet. A healthy, well-balanced diet significantly contributes to the health of your mouth and your entire body.

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