Young man with short dark hair is holding a green apple and smiling while in a kitchen.

You Are What You Eat: How Diet Affects Dental Health

Scott General Dentistry

When it comes to nutrition and dental health, you probably know that you should avoid sugary foods, but there is more to understand to help yourself improve your oral health. Here’s what you should know.

Eating for Dental Health

The American Dental Association recommends following the same guidelines as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Per their MyPlate website, a balanced diet includes:

  • Plenty of fresh produce. Half your plate at each meal should be fruits and vegetables.
  • Healthy whole grains. Half the grains you eat each day should be whole, like brown rice and oatmeal.
  • Dairy. Preferably low-fat or fat-free.
  • Lean protein. Eat at least eight ounces of seafood a week, then include a variety of other proteins from animals, eggs, and plants.

Both phosphorus and calcium are important minerals for forming and maintaining strong tooth enamel. The same calcium-rich foods you eat for bone health also benefit your dental health—cheese, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, milk, and almonds. As for phosphorus, protein-rich foods from animals, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs are the most common sources in our diets. 

Although this section is about eating for dental health, we can’t forget to mention drinking for dental health too: fluoridated water helps keep your teeth strong and protects against cavities.

Foods That Cause Tooth Decay

It’s probably no surprise that sugar is the number one culprit when it comes to tooth decay. Desserts like cakes and cookies, hard and sticky candies, and even carb-heavy snack foods like potato and corn chips contain excessive amounts of sugar that sticks to your teeth after you eat them. When you drink sugary beverages like soda and juice, you’re coating your entire mouth in sugar, which is particularly damaging. 

Sugar on the teeth creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The combination of sugar, other food debris, and bacteria forms plaque on the teeth; plaque can harden into tartar, which can only be removed during a professional dental cleaning

When bacteria feeds off of sugar, acid is released, which eats away at the tooth enamel. Weakened tooth enamel leads to tooth decay. For this reason, acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes should also be eaten only as part of a meal and never alone, as they can wear away tooth enamel too.

A Note on Snacking

For optimal dental health, avoid snacking and drinking anything but water between meals. If you do need to snack between meals, choose healthy foods rather than sugary or high carbohydrate convenience items. A cheese stick, a handful of nuts, a piece of non-acidic fruit, or vegetable sticks with a plain yogurt dip are all wise choices for dental health.

Learn More About Diet and Dental Health

If you have questions about how nutrition impacts your oral health, the perfect time to ask them is at your routine dental exam. Contact us today at 860-677-8666 to schedule an appointment.