Chew on This for Healthy Teeth and Gums
As hard and durable as our teeth are, it's hard to imagine that they're constantly being built up and broken down. But they are, and keeping two processes in balance is important in keeping your teeth healthy. Much depends on what you put in your mouth and how long it stays there.
Whenever you eat something with starch or sugar, it becomes food for the bacteria that live in your mouth. The sugars are then converted into acid that can eat away at your tooth enamel. When you see deposits of plaque on your teeth, you're looking at a sticky film of bacteria at work – de-mineralizing your teeth. That's why brushing and flossing to remove plaque is so important in keeping your teeth healthy.
Your eating habits play a big role, too. Certain foods accelerate enamel breakdown, while others help to re-mineralize teeth and protect them.
Bacteria loves carbohydrates in the form of sugars and refined starches. Sugary sodas and candy provide a readily available source of simple sugars, and the starches in foods like white bread, soda crackers or pretzels are easily broken down into sugars by enzymes in your saliva.
However, it isn't so much the total amount of sugar we eat that's the problem – it's the amount of time that these sugars stay in contact with teeth surfaces. The more often you eat and the longer that sugars and starches stay in the mouth, the more damage that's likely to happen. That's why sticky foods, sugary drinks and hard candies can be so damaging – they all expose your teeth to a continuous bath of sugar.
Highly acidic foods, like citrus, can wear away at tooth enamel, too. And many soft drinks, in addition to the huge amounts of sugar they contain, are also highly acidic. Minimizing soda intake is a good idea, of course, but you don't want to eliminate healthy citrus from your diet. Instead, have your citrus foods with meals, rather than eating them by themselves.
Calcium and phosphorus, found primarily in dairy products and protein foods, help to re-mineralize the teeth, which mean that more calcium and phosphorus is going into the teeth, rather than leaving. You may have also heard that cheese is good for your teeth, and that's true. Not only does it contain calcium and phosphorus, but eating cheese stimulates the flow of saliva, which helps to wash away food particles. Just remember to eat the low fat varieties.
Crunchy fruits and veggies are great for teeth because they contain plenty of water that helps to dilute the effects of sugar, and their coarse texture helps to scrub tooth surfaces clean. You might consider ending your meals European-style; with a bit of fresh fruit and some low fat cheese.
Dentists recommend that you eat your sugars and starches with meals, rather than by themselves, and that you brush your teeth after every meal or snack. Since that is not always practical, try to finish off your meal with a crunchy piece of fruit. You can also chew a piece of sugarless gum – it actually stimulates saliva flow and can help dislodge food particles, so it's not a bad option if you don't have your brush handy.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.