It’s a great feeling to walk away from a dental exam and cleaning with zero cavities. Your teeth feel extra fresh, there’s a sense of relief knowing you are taking care of your dental health and now you know you’re basically all good for another six months.
On the other hand, if you have a cavity or two, you’re likely in for at least one more appointment and a hit to your wallet. That’s time and money you could save if you avoid cavities in the first place. In addition to routine brushing, flossing and using a mouth rinse, there are actually certain foods that can help improve your dental health. (Sadly, cake is not on the list.)
To find out which foods will help you avoid cavities, we reached out to Dr. Jason Hutto, DDS. Here are some snacks he recommends to keep your mouth healthy.
Cavities are formed when naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth, in a thin layer of plaque on the teeth, meet up with sugars and starches in foods and create acid, Dr. Hutto says. That acid erodes the tooth’s enamel and creates a small infection, or cavity.
Cheese helps prevent this cavity-causing process by raising the pH levels in the mouth, which counteracts the acid made by plaque and sugars, Dr. Hutto says. Another benefit he notes: “Cheese contains calcium and proteins that strengthen tooth enamel.”
Crunchy Fruits and Veggies
Crunchy fruits and vegetables are basically nature’s toothbrushes. Apples, pears, carrots, celery and other fibrous fruits and veggies cleanse your teeth as you chew them, because they brush against teeth and remove plaque, Dr. Hutto says.
These crunchy foods also have plenty of vitamins and minerals that strengthen your teeth, and chewing them increases flow of saliva, which rinses away sugars and starches, Dr. Hutto says. “Carrots are especially good, as they have vitamins A and C, which makes gums healthier,” he says.
“Almonds are a low-sugar snack that’s full of calcium and protein,” Dr. Hutto says. Calcium and protein help strengthen tooth enamel, and the crunch works to remove plaque the same way crunchy fruits or veggies do, he says.
One caveat: Make sure you’re snacking on plain almonds, not honey-roasted or other sweet flavors, he says. The sweetened versions will undo the low-sugar component that makes almonds such a great choice for your teeth.
Tea and Coffee
Caffeine addicts, rejoice — tea and black coffee can prevent cavities! Tea and coffee contain polyphenols, which are chemicals found in certain foods, and they have antioxidant properties that can help your gums, Dr. Hutto says. “They also have antibacterial properties, which can help kill the bacteria that cause cavities,” he says.
However, there’s another factor to consider: teeth staining. If you overdo the coffee or tea you risk staining your teeth, Dr. Hutto says. Also, adding milk or sugar to your beverage will nullify the anti-cavity benefits, so get used to drinking your coffee and tea plain.
Sugar-free gum with xylitol not only won’t hurt your teeth the way regular gum will, but it can actually help them. “Xylitol is a sugar that bacteria cannot use to produce acid, so it’s safe for your teeth,” Dr. Hutto says. Also, chewing gum between meals can increase salivary flow and reduce your risk of dry mouth, another big contributor to cavities, he says.
Yogurt contains plenty of calcium and protein to help your enamel in much the same way cheese does, Dr. Hutto says. And it also contains helpful bacteria that can counteract some of the harmful bacteria in your mouth that cause cavities, he says. Just make sure you eat plain yogurt with no added sugar.
Tap water contains fluoride, which is important for your enamel to repair itself in the early stages of a cavity before you need a filling, Dr. Hutto says. Adequate fluoride is essential to your dental health.
Water is also crucial in preventing dehydration and dry mouth. Many of us drink a good amount of coffee or soda, which actually has a diuretic effect on the body, Dr. Hutto says. “We walk around in a constant state of slight dehydration, which increases the ability of bacteria to cause cavities from plaque buildup,” he says. If you’re dehydrated you don’t make enough saliva; if you don’t make enough saliva, plaque sticks to your teeth better and longer, giving the bacteria extra time to cause a cavity.
So put down the soda once in awhile and have a glass of plain tap water with fluoride. Your smile will thank you!
Want to improve your self-confidence and quality of life through your smile? Contact Dr. Hutto today and schedule your appointment.