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Foods for Bright Teeth and a Healthier Smile

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Regular brushing and flossing remain your best protection against tooth decay and gum problems. But a tooth-friendly diet can also help keep your smile bright and your gums healthy.

A balanced diet that provides adequate nutrition can help promote healthy teeth. Many nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and others, are essential to oral health. 

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Along with eating a healthy diet, it’s smart to limit snacking. The flow of saliva cleanses the mouth and teeth, removing cavity-promoting foods. But “if you snack all the time, you expose your teeth again and again to foods that can erode enamel,” says Anthony M. Iacopino, DMD, PhD, dean of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry.

The best advice to prevent cavities? Limit your eating to three meals a day, says Iacopino. If you snack, reach for a food that’s less likely to cause tooth decay.

What are your best choices? Here’s the latest on foods to choose -- and foods to avoid -- in order to keep your teeth healthy and your smile bright.

Foods to Avoid for Healthy, White Teeth

Sugary drinks: When bacteria in the mouth break down simple sugars, they produce acids. These can erode tooth enamel, creating pits where cavities can form. Sugary drinks, including soft drinks and fruit drinks, consist almost entirely of simple sugars.

“Because people tend to sip them, sugared beverages may raise acid levels over a long period of time,” says Steven E. Schonfeld, DDS, PhD, a dentist in private practice and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Carbonated drinks are especially bad for teeth, since carbonation increases acidity.” Some studies have singled out sports drinks as the worst offenders for eroding enamel.

Candy and highly-sweetened snacks: Most candies are loaded with sugar, which increases acid levels from bacteria in the mouth. Sticky and gummy candies pose the biggest threat, since they adhere to teeth, making it hard for saliva to wash them away.

Some starchy foods: Starches also raise acid levels from bacteria in the mouth, eroding tooth enamel. Starchy foods include breads, pastas, rice, and potatoes.

The more refined or cooked a starch, the more likely it is to raise acid levels in the mouth. Raw starches in the form of vegetables tend not to endanger tooth enamel. 

Sugary breakfast cereals: Foods that contain a mixture of sugar and starch should be avoided. Snacks such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, pastries, and many processed foods may be bad for teeth. The combination of starch and sugar is more likely to get stuck in plaque between teeth.

Coffee, tea, and red wine: Sweetened tea or coffee raises acid levels, weakening enamel. And because they are often sipped slowly, acid levels may remain high over a longer period of time, raising the danger. Coffee, tea, and red wine also tend to stain teeth.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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