Healthy Cook: Food that helps keep teeth strong

WE EACH GET one set of permanent teeth. At least, we hope they are permanent. More than just brushing and flossing can help us keep them pearly white, strong, and cavity free.

It starts in childhood. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Tooth decay happens when plaque comes into contact with sugar in the mouth, causing acid to attack the teeth. Fruit juice, sodas, sweet snacks, and starchy foods can be dangerous to young choppers.

But some of the foods we eat can help keep teeth strong and smiles healthy. Fruits and vegetables work on the outside of the teeth. They are crunchy and help scrape acid off. Plus, they increase saliva production that washes acid away. Foods high in calcium and minerals work from the inside out. So you can fight tooth decay coming and going.

Start with water. Swishing just a mouthful or two will get rid of some of the sugars left by sweet drinks and snacks.

My favorite toothsome food is cheese. I love cheese … hard, soft, mild, tangy, stinky, melted, gooey … any old way at all. Cheese unleashes a burst of calcium that mixes with plaque and sticks to the teeth, protecting them from the acid that causes decay and helping to rebuild tooth enamel on the spot. It also has ample casein, a protein found in milk that fortifies the tooth’s surface. Let’s hear it for cheese! But many cheeses are high in calories, so a little more often is better than a big blob all at once — for your teeth and your waistline.

Crunchy foods, such as carrots, apples, and firm pears, help scrape plaque off your teeth and freshen your breath. Celery is especially good because it breaks down into fibrous strands that clean your teeth.

Fruit juices, though, are not great because they contain lots of sugar that has to be washed off. Eating whole fruit removes much of the sugar. Watermelon carries its own mouthwash.

Dairy products, including cheese, are jammed with calcium and vitamin D that work for our teeth and bones. Yogurt is great and you can mix it with teeth-scraping granola. Calcium-fortified fruit juices are good too.

Citrus is good for your teeth and gums. So are pineapple and broccoli. They keep your gums healthy, and healthy teeth need healthy gums.

Dark green, leafy vegetables contain beta carotene that is converted into vitamin A, which helps make strong bones and teeth. I grew up with Italians who often ate salad at the end of the meal before fruit and cheese for dessert. That’s a good idea because the greens and salad vegetables are high in water, and that helps wash away acids.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends foods from the five major food groups: Breads, cereal, pasta, and other grains; fruits; vegetables; meat, fish, poultry, dry beans, eggs, and nuts; milk, yogurt, and cheese. According to the ADA, “If you need a snack, choose wholesome foods for good general and oral health. Skipping soda can cut down on both tooth decay and empty calories. Try water or skim milk instead. Crave something crunchy? Eat an apple or a handful of nuts instead of chips.” Not only is that good advice for our teeth, it’s good advice for our whole body.


article by TRENT ROWE

Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Health News.

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