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Eating for Strong Teeth

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 |
Teeth Eating Sugar Starch Tooth Decay

Eating for strong teeth is as much about what not to eat as it is about what to eat.

What Not To Eat

Tooth decay (also known as dental caries) happens when the bacteria that live in the film that forms on the teeth (called plaque) convert the sugar in food into acid. This acid damages the enamel on the teeth. It’s not just sweets and chocolate that are the culprits – fruit juices and dried fruit are high in natural sugar, which can also feed the bacteria. Refined starch such as white flour may also have an effect as the bacteria turn the starch into acid, so eating wholegrain bread, rice and pasta may help.

How to avoid tooth decay? Avoid eating too many sweet things, especially sticky foods that stay on the teeth, and drinking things that are high in sugar. Try not to snack between meals on sugary or refined starch foods, or sip at sweet drinks or fruit juice over a long period – the more time that sugars and refined starches are in the mouth, the more time there is for tooth decay to happen. Leaving a gap of two to three hours between eating helps the acid levels to return to normal.

The sugars in fresh fruit don’t stick to the teeth as much, partly because the fibres in the fruit help to clean the teeth. These are also healthier than high-sugar and high-fat snacks. Water or sugar-free squashes and fizzy drinks will not cause tooth decay, and may help rinse food and bacteria from the teeth.

What to Eat

The surface of teeth is called the enamel, and fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel. Fluoride is added to drinking water in many areas, and tea and fish also contain fluoride. Making sure that young children and babies get enough fluoride helps protect them against tooth decay as they grow.

Teeth, like bones, are formed out of calcium, so it’s important to eat calcium-rich food, especially for children and babies, whose teeth are forming. Calcium is in milk, cheese, fortified soya milk, tinned fish that includes bones (like salmon and sardines), almonds, and leafy, dark green vegetables.

The body needs magnesium and vitamin D to absorb calcium properly. Magnesium is in nuts, cereals and vegetables, especially green, leafy ones. The skin makes vitamin D in sunlight (a good reason for children [and adults!] to play outdoors), and vitamin D is in milk, fortified soya milk, margarine, and oily fish.

Eating crunchy raw vegetables helps to clean the teeth. Chewing sugarless gum increases the amount of saliva in the mouth, which helps rinse food and bacteria off the teeth, preventing tooth decay. This is especially important for people who have dry mouths, caused by certain drugs and diseases.

And What Else?

Brushing teeth after eating something sweet can help to reduce the damage, as can having a drink of water and swishing it round the mouth before swallowing.

What else can you do for strong teeth? Brush them regularly (at least twice daily), and floss every day. Avoid using too hard a brush, as this can damage the teeth. Replace toothbrushes every few months and visit a dentist regularly.

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