You’ve heard dentists go on and on about how you have to floss and brush in order to control biofilm and plaque. But flossing and brushing are only part of the equation; it’s the foods you eat that determine your oral health. Believe it or not, flossing and brushing are secondary. Here are some good ideas from Dr. Axe on what foods to eat for optimal oral health. —Dr. B
You’re likely aware of the foods and drinks to stay away from if you’re trying to keep your chompers looking good: red wine and other acids can chip away at tooth enamel; sweets can lead to decay; and starchy foods, like soft breads and chips, can linger in your mouth longer than you’d like them to.
But did you know that there are foods that actually promote good oral health? Although you’re already flossing and brushing regularly, incorporating the right foods into your diet can strengthen teeth, heal cavities naturally and keep your teeth in tip-top shape. So reduce your chances of cavities or tooth decay and skip the expensive whitening treatments. It’s time to eat your way to a healthy smile.
It turns out that eating an apple a day doesn’t just keep the doctor away; it can ward off the dentist, too. Because apples are high in water, eating them stimulates saliva production, which helps rid your mouth of bacteria and stray food particles that have overstayed their welcome. The fiber found in apples also stimulates the gums and acts as a mild astringent for your teeth, gently brightening them. Just be sure to enjoy the fruit unpeeled, as a lot of its oral benefits are found in the skin.
Calcium isn’t only good for your bones — your teeth love it, too. A lack of calcium can lead to tooth decay, as the mineral helps your teeth maintain their structure. Getting enough calcium is a double whammy; not only will it strengthen teeth, but it also contributes to remineralization process that replaces minerals in the teeth.
Dairy products are chock-full of calcium and other minerals that promote oral wellness, but it’s important to eat the right dairy products. When choosing milk, always skip conventional products that are full of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. I recommend organic or, when possible, raw milk. It’s super healthy, safe and also full of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that pasteurization kills.
Yogurt and kefir are also two calcium-rich dairy options that can contribute to overall oral health. And as an immune-boosting bonus, the probiotics found in them increase the good bacteria throughout your body—including the ones that fight the bad, cavity-causing bacteria.
Practiced for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, coconut oil pulling is a fantastic oral detoxification procedure that’s been gaining traction in the U.S. over the last few years. It works by removing toxins from your mouth and creating a clean, antiseptic oral environment that’s needed to prevent cavities and disease, and it’s super easy! Simply swish a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, and then spit it into the trash. (Avoid spitting the oil in the sink, as it could clog your drains, and you definitely don’t want to swallow it and reabsorb those toxins into your body.) The best time of day to oil pull is in the morning, and if you do it throughout your normal morning routine (i.e. while showering or getting dressed), it’ll be over in no time.
Because of its natural antifungal and antiviral properties, coconut is incredibly effective at remedying tooth decay, killing bad breath, whitening teeth and healing bleeding gums. And while oil pulling is a great way to reap the maximum oral health benefits from coconut, incorporating into your regular diet helps, too. I use coconut oil to cook all of my meals at home, and I also love adding coconut milk to my smoothies.
Is there anything leafy greens can’t fix? Because they’re high in vitamins and minerals while being low in calories, leafy greens—like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and collard greens—are a fool-proof way to keep teeth healthy. The antioxidants and vitamins found in these powerful veggies combat cavities while also serving as a sneaky source of calcium to keep teeth strong.
If you struggle with getting enough leafy greens in your diet, try adding a handful to your morning smoothie, making baked green chips, sprinkling them on your pizza or using them as a sandwich “wrap” or “taco shell.” Your smile will thank you.
If you want a healthy mouth, it’s time to go nuts. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, take your pick—they’re all fantastic options. Nuts are loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals that benefit your teeth, and the chewing that’s needed to break them down for digestion increases saliva production, keeping your mouth nice and clean.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts strengthen teeth and support healthy gum tissue, and nuts are also high in protein, making them an especially good option for vegetarians and vegans. One caveat: though nuts are generally healthy for you, they’re relatively high in fat. Portion out your serving sizes to ensure you’re not overdoing it.