Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

How Diet Influences Your Oral and Dental Health

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Key Takeaways

  • Your diet has a crucial impact on your oral and overall health. The food you eat can supply fuel for harmful oral bacteria.
  • Getting enough essential nutrients will help protect your teeth and gums from those same bacteria.
  • By including a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods in your diet, you have a better chance of maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
  • A healthy diet and good oral hygiene will strengthen your teeth and help your body fight plaque-forming bacteria.

How Does Diet Impact Your Oral Health?

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.

3D render of tartar and bactrail tooth plaque on teeth of lower jaw

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).

Trench mouth or bleeding gums which is a pathological inflammatory condition of the gums

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:

  • The growth of oral bacteria and dental plaque
  • Enamel erosion
  • Saliva flow (which is crucial for remineralizing your teeth)
  • Bone and tooth density
  • Immune function (a strong immune system helps prevent oral infections)

All of these factors have an impact on your oral health.

woman getting food from a plate

Best Foods and Nutrients For Your Dental 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:

  • Macronutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These comprise most of the food we eat. All three are important for general health.
  • Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These come in smaller quantities, but they’re also important for health.

In general, prioritizing whole foods over pre-packaged or processed foods is best for ensuring a healthy intake of both macro- and micronutrients.

Calcium, Vitamin D, and Magnesium

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

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:

  • Smaller tooth size and delayed tooth eruption
  • Poor saliva production, leading to dry mouth and tooth decay
  • Stunted jaw growth

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

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.

Vitamin B

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.

If you have gingivitis or get frequent canker sores, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. Being deficient in B vitamins also increases your risk of periodontal disease as you age.4

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

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.

Worst Foods For Your Dental Health

Many types of food can damage your teeth and gums when consumed in large quantities, including:

  • Hard and sticky foods, such as hard candies, caramel, and other sugary substances
  • Acidic foods such as citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, and limes), tomatoes, and pineapples
  • Processed grains and starches, such as pasta, bread, chips, and crackers
  • Coffee and tea, which are acidic and can cause staining
  • Soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks, due to their high sugar content and often acidic pH
  • Alcoholic beverages, especially wine (which can cause staining) and sugary mixed drinks

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. 

Other Factors That Affect Oral Health

In addition to nutrition, there are some other factors to consider when it comes to ensuring healthy teeth and gums:

  • Overall oral hygiene — Even with a balanced diet, it’s important to brush and floss your teeth to remove food particles and prevent plaque buildup.
  • Food consistency — Eating especially hard or crunchy foods can lead to enamel wear. It might even cause tooth fractures. On the other hand, eating only soft foods can contribute to weaker teeth and jaws over time.
  • Systemic health — Health conditions such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders can be a factor in poor oral health. It’s important to get proper treatment for chronic illnesses.
  • Dietary sugar intake – Consuming excessive sugars, especially in the form of sugary snacks and beverages, can contribute to the development of cavities and tooth decay.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Palmer, Carole A., and Linda D. Boyd. Diet and Nutrition in Oral Health. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2016.
  2. Scardina, G.A., and P. Messina. “Good Oral Health and Diet.” Journal of Biomedicine & Biotechnology, 2012.
  3. Woelber, J.P., et al. “An oral health optimized diet can reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in humans – a randomized controlled pilot study.” BMC Oral Health, 2017.
  4. Cagetti, Maria Grazia, et al. “The Role of Vitamins in Oral Health. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020.
  5. Kozioł-Kozakowska, Agnieszka, and Katarzyna Maresz. “The Impact of Vitamin K2 (Menaquionones) in Children’s Health and Diseases: A Review of the Literature.” Children, 2022.
  6. Casarin, Maísa, et al. “Association between different dietary patterns and eating disorders and periodontal diseases.” Frontiers in Oral Health, 2023.
  7. Tennert, Christian, et al. “An oral health optimized diet reduces the load of potential cariogenic and periodontal bacterial species in the supragingival oral plaque: A randomized controlled pilot study.” MicrobiologyOpen, 2020.
  8. Kahn, Sandra, et al. “The Jaw Epidemic: Recognition, Origins, Cures, and Prevention.” BioScience, 2020.
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