Strengthen your teeth naturally with these powerfully protective bitesBy Jessica Chia, Prevention
Show off those pearly whites! Can your smile give your diet away? It won't announce that extra piece of cake you had, but it can show more than you might think.
First, the bad news: Bacteria love feeding on sugar as much as you do, fermenting the sweet stuff into acid that eats away at your tooth enamel, leading to unhappy side effects like discoloration and cavities. Starchy foods have a similar effect, as enzymes in your saliva break starch down into acid-producing simple sugars.
Now the good: Instead of scrubbing after every bite and steering clear of sugar forever and ever (how sad would that be?), there are a number of foods that actually work wonders for your teeth. Check out these delicious ways to get a whiter, healthier smile.
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Firm, crunchy produce like raw carrots force you to chew more than you would while eating a softer food. And that's a good thing: Chewing stimulates saliva production, which neutralizes the acids and enzymes in your mouth that threaten your enamel, says Jyoti Srivastava, MS, DDS, a New York City-based prosthodontist and spokesperson for the American College of Prosthodontists. (See what makes the carrot, along with 50 other seriously healthy foods for women, a bonafide superfood.)
Like carrots, this pale plant also triggers enamel-protecting saliva when eaten raw. Plus, like fellow cruciferous veggies broccoli, cabbage, and kale, it contains glucosinolates--sulfur and nitrogen-containing compounds that may ward off cancer tumors in the mouth and digestive tract, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research.
With every passing year, acid eats away at your protective tooth enamel. But calcium and phosphorus, minerals found in abundance in both cheese and tofu, can fight decay. "Though as adults our teeth are already formed, it's helpful to eat calcium and phosphorus to rebuild the tooth enamel," says Deepinder Sahota, DDS, a consumer advisor spokesperson for the American Dental Association based in Fremont, California. (Can't handle dairy? Check out these 10 dairy-free ways to get your calcium fix!)
Salmon is a great source of enamel-building phosphorus, with 315 mg of the mineral in a three-ounce serving (about a third of the FDA's daily recommended intake for adults). "Intact enamel makes teeth look whitest because it keeps the dark dentin at the center of each tooth from showing through," says Dr. Srivastava. The fatty fish is also a good dietary source of vitamin D, which encourages calcium absorption.
More from Prevention: 12 Fish To Never, Ever Eat
Sure, it's embarrassing when the stuff's stuck between your teeth, but the risk is worth it. Dark, leafy greens--like spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard--are one of the best sources of enamel-building magnesium, with 78 mg in a half-cup serving. Leafy greens also lack enamel-harming acidity. "In terms of vegetables, I always point to greens, which are very neutral," says Dr. Sahota. (Speaking of leafy greens, see how kale could be wrecking your thyroid.)
The rough texture of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables has a scrubbing effect on plaque-covered teeth and gums, says Dr. Srivastava. One medium apple delivers 4 grams of fiber, making it one of the best fruit sources of the stuff (oranges, bananas, and cherries contain just 2). Better yet, the malic acid content in apples can slightly lighten tooth color. "Malic acid can absorb some surface stains," Dr. Srivastava explains.
Although berries have a reputation for staining, the ascorbic acid in the fruit can have a slight brightening effect. They're also packed with polyphenols, which suppress bacteria growth. Still, as teeth-friendly as they are, make sure to brush your teeth after consuming the fruit, just as you would with any other acidic or sweet food. With this particular fruit, it's important to choose organic, along these 12 other foods you should always buy organic, whenever you can.