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Your diet affects your oral health in various ways. For example, a diet high in processed and sugary foods will feed the bacteria that form dental plaque.
Plaque is acidic and eats away at your tooth enamel, eventually leading to tooth decay. Plaque can also harden over time, becoming tartar. Plaque and tartar buildup can cause gingivitis and contribute to severe gum disease (periodontitis).
On the other hand, an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals can protect your teeth and gums. These nutrients can help remineralize your teeth and prevent gum inflammation.
The food and drinks you consume play a role in:
All of these factors have an impact on your oral health.
A balanced diet is crucial for keeping your teeth and gums healthy.1,2,3 Inadequate amounts of certain nutrients can lead to serious oral health conditions over time. In children, nutrient deficiencies can lead to developmental problems.
Nutrients include both macronutrients and micronutrients:
In general, prioritizing whole foods over pre-packaged or processed foods is best for ensuring a healthy intake of both macro- and micronutrients.
These nutrients are essential for strengthening teeth and bones, especially in developing children. They are also associated with the quantity of alveolar bone (the bone tissue supporting your teeth) and bone density you have.
Much of your tooth enamel is made from calcium, so adequate calcium intake is vital for healthy teeth. It helps to remineralize your enamel.
Eggs, fish, and liver are all good sources of vitamin D. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich in vitamin D and calcium. Magnesium can be found in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds.
Vitamin C helps strengthen your teeth, gums, and soft tissues. It also fights against gingivitis (mild gum disease) and helps prevent loose teeth.
Broccoli, leafy greens, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwis, and oranges are good sources of vitamin C.
Protein is necessary for cell replication in the body, including bone and muscle growth. If your child is protein deficient, this can cause:
High-quality meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products are strong protein sources. Some plant foods, such as beans (especially soybeans), almonds, and quinoa, also provide significant amounts of protein.
Vitamin A is important for the growth and separation of cells in the body. In particular, ingesting enough vitamin A during the last trimester of pregnancy helps prevent premature birth, poor lung development, and nutritional deficiencies.
It also assists in building strong tooth enamel, keeps your gums healthy, and even reduces the risk of cleft palate. Sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna, liver, bell peppers, dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, and cantaloupe are good sources of vitamin A.
B vitamins are actually a group of different nutrients, including B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folate), and B12. All of these vitamins play important roles in cell health and preventing inflammation.
Good sources of B vitamins include red meat, seafood, dairy, leafy greens, peas, and beets. Many processed grain products, such as breakfast cereal, are fortified with vitamin B.
Vitamin K2 is important for healthy teeth and bones.5 Combined with vitamin D, it helps supply your teeth and bones with calcium. Vitamin K2 deficiency in children can lead to weaker bones and poor jaw growth.
Dark leafy greens like kale are rich in vitamin K1. However, vitamin K2 is better absorbed by your body. In addition, vitamin K is fat-soluble, meaning it needs to be combined with fat to be absorbed.5
This makes foods rich in vitamin K2 especially important. These include dairy, fermented foods (especially fermented soybeans), and grass-fed meat.
Copper helps build strong bones as well as teeth.
If your infant or child has a copper deficiency, they can develop osteopenia. This condition causes their bones to be weaker than normal and break more easily. Meat, mushrooms, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are good sources of copper.
Together with calcium, phosphorus makes up much of your tooth enamel. This makes adequate phosphorus important for healthy teeth.
If you are phosphorus-deficient, you may suffer from enamel hypoplasia (thin enamel) and enamel pitting.
Fortunately, phosphorus can be found in various foods, including meat and dairy, seafood, beans, seeds, and grains.
Many types of food can damage your teeth and gums when consumed in large quantities, including:
These foods can fuel plaque-forming bacteria, damage your enamel, and/or cause staining. However, moderation is key. An occasional pasta dish or glass of orange juice doesn’t guarantee poor oral health.
It’s important to look at these foods in the context of your diet as a whole, as well as your oral hygiene and overall health. If your overall diet is rich in nutritious whole foods, a sports drink during strenuous exercise likely isn’t something to worry about.
On the other hand, if processed snacks are a significant part of your diet, you’re likely to benefit from changing what you eat. A great book to read for both adults and children is “More Chocolate, No Cavities” to learn how to change your diet to improve your oral health.
In addition to nutrition, there are some other factors to consider when it comes to ensuring healthy teeth and gums:
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