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Nutrition and your smile: eat to protect your teeth

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:21 a.m. CDT

Daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing are essential to a healthy smile, but did you know nutrition has an effect on your dental health, too?

The foods you eat and the beverages you drink have can have a direct influence on how healthy your teeth and gums are. Poor dental health affects more than just your smile.

Decayed teeth and painful gums (known as periodontal disease) make it difficult to eat the variety of healthful foods needed to keep the rest of your body healthy.

To keep those pearly whites in good shape, include calcium rich foods, such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, fortified soy drinks and tofu, canned salmon, almonds, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Foods high in phosphorus, found in eggs, fish, lean meat and dairy products, also promote strong teeth. Foods high in Vitamin C keep your gums healthy, so eat plenty of citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes and spinach.

Foods that promote cavities are empty calorie foods like candy (especially hard or sticky candies like lollipops, mints, taffy and caramel), cookies, cakes and other desserts. Limit these, not only because they offer no nutritional value, but also because the amount and type of sugar that they contain can adhere to teeth.

The bacteria in your mouth feed off these sugars, releasing acids, which contribute to tooth decay. Sugar containing drinks (pop, lemonade, juice and sweetened coffee or tea) are particularly harmful because sipping them causes a constant sugar bath over your teeth.

Smart snacking can also keep your mouth in good shape. Resist the urge to snack frequently since the more often you eat, especially in between meals, the more likely you are to introduce acid attacks on your teeth. If you do snack, choose wisely.

Fruits and vegetables are good choices for snacks because they are high in water and fiber, which balance the sugars they contain and help to clean the teeth. These foods also help stimulate saliva production, which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth and helps neutralize acid, protecting teeth from decay.

Chewing sugarless gum for a brief period immediately after a meal or snack also reduces your risk of cavities.

The bottom line is that eating well for overall health — a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy products and whole grains — provide essential nutrients for a healthy smile as well as overall health.

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