Dental Nutrition: Eating Right for Good Oral Health
In case you hadn’t heard, November is Good Nutrition Month. Hot on the heels of Halloween and with holiday parties and feasts in clear view, what better time to showcase the nutrients and food sources that support good dental health? After all, it’s no secret that oral health — the state of one’s mouth, teeth and gums — is directly related to overall health.
The vitamins and minerals we need for good teeth
To understand the link between diet and dental health, let’s zoom in to the micro level and look at the vitamins and minerals that are essential for healthy teeth and gums.
First, what vitamins are good for teeth? Of course, there are more than three, but vitamins A, C and D are widely recognized as key essential nutrients for dental health.
While there are essential differences, the materials found in teeth and bones share many similarities. It’s because of the similarities that the bone-building nutrient vitamin A also helps boost tooth health.
To get more vitamin A, you can turn to both animal and plant-based sources. On the animal side, foods like milk, eggs, and liver are good sources of vitamin A. Bright orange fruits and vegetables (think sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, cantaloupe, dried apricots and the like) and deep green leafy veggies (kale, spinach, dandelion greens, and so on) provide vitamin A as well.
Healthy eating never needs to be bland. Some herbs and spices also contain vitamin A. For example, parsley, oregano, and dill are relatively rich in this important nutrient, as are the spices paprika and cayenne. So go ahead: spice it up – your teeth may actually thank you.
Vitamin C helps the body maintain healthy teeth and gums from the inside out. It is essential to normal growth and development. Fortunately, this essential nutrient for dental health is available in nearly all fruits and vegetables.
Fruits with the highest sources of vitamin C include cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, kiwis, mangos, strawberries, and papaya. Vegetables that are unusually high in vitamin C include broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and squash.
Probably the most widely recognized nutrient for healthy teeth and bones is calcium – which we’ll look at in more detail later. While we’re on the topic of vitamins, though – did you know that your body cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D? That’s just one reason why vitamin D is so important to good dental health. Here’s another: vitamin D has been shown to be an anti-inflammatory agent as well as an important nutrient in helping to prevent cavities.
Vitamin D can be found in a number of food sources. Some of the best natural sources of vitamin D are eggs, button and shitake mushrooms, and a variety of fish including salmon, mackerel, catfish, sardines, and tuna. Unlike the other nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy, vitamin D can be acquired through exposure to sunshine. Which means a walk in the sunshine can actually help improve a smile in more ways than one.
In addition to vitamins, teeth need minerals to be optimally healthy…
In addition to vitamins, teeth need minerals to be optimally healthy, and calcium is one of the most important minerals for healthy teeth. Just as bones provide a structural support for the body’s organs and tissues – the skeleton – calcium provides the external structural element of teeth.
Well known sources of calcium include dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt), seeds and nuts (sesame and flax seeds, almonds), dark green leafy vegetables (kale, collards, mustard greens). Like Vitamin A, some dried herbs (savory, celery seed, thyme, dill) are relatively good sources of calcium.
Together with calcium, the mineral phosphorus plays a huge role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. In fact, neither calcium nor phosphorus can keep teeth and bones strong on their own. They both need each other to be effective.
To help ensure that there is enough phosphorus in your diet, eat foods rich in this mineral. Some great vegetable sources of phosphorus include almonds and other nuts, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, cereals, grains, and beans. Animal sources of phosphorus include eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.
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Finally, there is growing evidence that the mineral magnesium plays an important role in preventing periodontal disease and protecting against cavities.
As with so many of the nutrients that can help support good dental health, magnesium can be found in dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Other good sources of magnesium include cereals, dairy products, almonds, cashews, peanuts, legumes, and fruits such as bananas, raisins, and figs.
Eat your way to oral health
In the end, the foods we consume every day can be as important to our oral health as regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups. With a little planning, it can be easy to choose delicious foods that are great sources of the essential nutrients for good oral health.
To discover more ways to include a healthy variety of tooth-friendly foods in your diet, start a conversation with your dentist or dental hygienist, or kick off a discussion by entering your comment below!