BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE FOODS you consume can affect your smile as much as brushing or flossing. Every time you eat sugary or starchy foods, the bacteria in plaque get another chance to form decay-causing acid. And bad breath can make you want to hide even the most pristine teeth. But choosing foods that naturally fight bacteria, remove plaque, strengthen enamel, and freshen breath is a good way to preserve your pearly whites. Pick these 10.
Celery protects your teeth in two ways. The extra chewing it requires produces plenty of saliva, which neutralizes the bacteria Streptococcus mutans that causes cavities. Additionally, chomping on naturally abrasive foods massages gums and cleans between teeth. Try This: Snack on a handful of raw celery or carrots once a day.
Studies from the last decade show that cheese, with its low carbohydrate and high calcium and phosphate content, provides several benefits for your teeth. It helps balance your mouth’s pH (an acidic pH encourages the growth of cavity-causing bacteria). Cheese also preserves and rebuilds tooth enamel and produces saliva, which kills the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease. Try This: Enjoy a 1-inch cube (about 1/2 ounce) of cheese after dinner instead of a sweet dessert.
3. Green Tea
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains substances called catechins that kill the bacteria in your mouth that turn sugar into plaque (a sticky mass of bacteria, sugars, proteins, and fats that produces cavity-causing acid when it comes in contact with sugary or starchy foods). Catechins also wipe out the bacteria that cause bad breath. Try This: Drink 2 to 5 cups of green tea (regular or decaffeinated) a day. Consider making a thermos of green tea to drink at work. The night before, steep 3 to 4 green tea bags in 4 cups of boiling-hot water in a covered thermos for three to five minutes. Remove the bags. Serve the tea the next day over ice or after reheating it.
For their size, kiwis pack more vitamin C than any other fruit. In fact, one large kiwi supplies more than 100 percent of your recommended daily amount. If you don’t get enough vitamin C, research shows that the collagen network in your gums can break down, making your gums tender and more susceptible to the bacteria that cause periodontal disease. Try This: Instead of topping your morning oatmeal with brown sugar, use a sliced kiwi.
Onions contain powerful antibacterial sulfur compounds. In a 1997 test tube study, onions killed various types of bacteria, including S. mutans. Research indicates that they are most powerful when eaten freshly peeled and raw. Of course, raw onions can do a number on your breath, so be sure to have some fresh parsley on hand (see below). Try This: Add a few onion slices to salads and sandwiches each day.
Chewing parsley or mint leaves after a pungent meal will help you maintain sweet-smelling breath. These herbs contain monoterpenes, volatile substances that travel quickly from your bloodstream to your lungs, where their odor is released via your breath. Try This: Top zesty dishes with a few tablespoons of minced fresh parsley or garnish dessert with a few sprigs of fresh mint.
7. Sesame Seeds
According to fossils, our Paleolithic ancestors had great teeth. Anthropologists suggest that this is partly due to the cleansing action of primitive foods like seeds, which slough off plaque and help build tooth enamel. Sesame seeds, for example, are also high in calcium, which helps preserve the bone around your teeth and gums. Try This: Sprinkle a tablespoon of sesame seeds on salads and steamed vegetables a few times a week for a gentle teeth cleaning and 87 mg of calcium.
8. Shiitake Mushrooms
A 2000 study in Caries Research showed that lentinan, a sugar found in shiitake mushrooms, prevents mouth bacteria from creating plaque. Try This: A few times a week, add four to five sliced shiitakes to soups or stir-fries. Buy fresh shiitakes or dried ones, which can be reconstituted by soaking them in hot water for about 25 minutes before use.
Otherwise known as Japanese horse-radish, this condiment not only provides zing to sushi, it also protects your teeth. A 2000 study revealed that the substances that make wasabi taste hot, called isothiocyanates, also inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. Try This: Eating wasabi a few times a week will protect you from cavities. For a smile-saving salad dressing, combine 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon wasabi paste, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.
Drinking water keeps your gums hydrated and is the best way to stimulate saliva–your body’s greatest defense against the bacteria that cause plaque and cavities. Rinsing your mouth with water also helps wash away trapped food particles that decompose in the mouth and cause bad breath. Try This: Aim to drink six 8-ounce glasses of purified water throughout each day to keep your gums (and whole body) hydrated and to stimulate saliva. If you can’t brush your teeth after eating, be sure to rinse your mouth with water.
Save Your Smile with These Easy Tips
In addition to regular brushing, following these suggestions can greatly increase the life of your teeth and gums.
Watch Out for Minimeals. Eating small meals throughout the day can help you control your weight. But every time you eat, bacteria grow in your mouth.
The Fix: Brush your teeth or rinse with water after each meal or snack.
Avoid Sugary Sips. Slowly sipping sweetened beverages exposes your teeth to sugar for long periods.
The Fix: Switch to water or unsweetened green tea.
Freshen Breath Naturally. Chewing sugary gum or candy between meals feeds plaque, which can cause cavities.
The Fix: Chew on a whole clove or tea-tree-flavored toothpick to help freshen breath and kill bacteria.
Choose Desserts Wisely. Eating sweets at the end of your meal leaves an enamel-corroding sugary residue.
The Fix: Choose cheese or low-sugar fruits like pears and apples as dessert.
Floss Daily. Not flossing for even one day allows cavity-causing plaque to begin forming between teeth.
The Fix: Try brushing and flossing right after dinner when you still have energy