By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D. Associate Nutrition Editor for EatingWell Magazine
Last time I visited the dentist, we were having one of those awkward, mouth-full-of-toothpaste conversations. She was asking me about my work (I'm the associate nutrition editor of EatingWell Magazine and a registered dietitian, and I write a lot about food and health), when it occurred to me that I wanted to write about foods for healthier teeth (and by extension, a brighter smile).
Here's what I found out:
Crunchy and chewy foods -- such as carrots, celery and nuts -- cause saliva to flow; saliva neutralizes the acids formed by cavity-causing bacteria. (Sticky and sweet foods, on the other hand, help that bacteria to grow and develop into plaque -- a bacterial buildup that can give rise to cavities. More from EatingWell: Beauty Foods That Fight Wrinkles, Swelling and More 6 Surprising Sources of Sugar Ward Off Garlic Breath with These 5 Foods Flickr photo by Adam Wyles
Milk and cheese are naturally good for your teeth. Not only do they provide calcium, which helps make teeth and bones strong, they also deliver casein, a protein that reduces cavity formation. Flickr photo by Jules Morgan
Several foods directly combat the bacteria that cause cavities, bad breath and gum disease. Garlic, apples, grapes, shiitake mushrooms, cocoa and nutmeg contain compounds that may prevent cavity-causing bacteria from adhering to teeth. Flickr photo by Matt McGee
You might think that because raisins are sweet and sticky, they're not good for your oral health. But research has shown that antioxidants in raisins fight the growth of a type of bacteria that can cause inflammation and gum disease, according to research from the Illinois College of Dentistry. Flickr photo by JD Hancock
Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins that may tamp down the body's inflammatory response to the bacteria that cause gum disease. A study found that a daily cup of green tea significantly lowered Japanese men's risk of developing gum disease. The polyphenols in black tea can help destroy the growth of bacteria that cause bad breath too. Flickr photo by Dimitri Fedorov
Water keeps your throat and lips moist and prevents your mouth from feeling dry. Dry mouth can cause bad breath and/or an unpleasant taste -- and can even promote cavities. Flickr photo by Svadilfari
Researchers from Japan, publishing their findings in the Journal of Periodontology, analyzed dietary intakes from nearly 1,000 adults and found those who consumed the highest levels of dairy -- specifically yogurt and yogurt-type drinks -- had the healthiest gums. They think the probiotics (a.k.a. "good bacteria") in yogurt might be responsible for protecting gums. A 2005 study also found that yogurt can stop the growth of bad-breath-causing bacteria. More from EatingWell: Beauty Foods That Fight Wrinkles, Swelling and More 6 Surprising Sources of Sugar Ward Off Garlic Breath with These 5 Foods Flickr photo by Dan4th
Kerri-Ann, a registered dietitian, is the associate editor of nutrition for EatingWell magazine, where she puts her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to work writing and editing news about nutrition, health and food trends. In her free time, Kerri-Ann likes to practice yoga, hike, bake and paint.
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