We’ve all heard about how a bad diet is bad for your teeth, but what about the opposite? Can healthy food improve your oral health? It can! Maintaining a healthy diet (crash dieting doesn’t count!) can lead to long-term improvements for your teeth, gums, and the rest of your mouth. We’re going to take a look at some of the foods and micronutrients that play a significant role in your overall dental health, and how you can integrate them into your diet.
Zinc and Folate: The Keys to Healthy Tissue
Healthy gums support healthy teeth, and periodontitis is often a sign of other health issues. Zinc and folate are micronutrients that play key roles in the growth and repair of connective tissues, and low Folate levels are associated with periodontitis. They’re also involved in the growth and repair of mucosal tissues (mucus membranes), and the overall efficacy of your immune system.
As a pair, zinc and folate limit the formation of pockets in your gum line, prevent gingivitis, and keep bacteria in your mouth from entering your bloodstream through your mucous membranes. It’s easy to imagine that calcium is the single critical nutrient for dental health, but you can’t neglect your gums!
What to Eat
Eat pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, and mushrooms for zinc. You can incorporate all three into a wide variety of meals, which makes it easy to hit the recommended daily intake without throwing off your diet.
Lentils, collard greens, and papaya are your best bets for folate. While you can find a variety of foods with folic acid, it isn’t as bioavailable as folate. Eat plenty of spinach if you want something rich in both folate and zinc.
Omega-3’s and Antioxidants: The Keys to Minimizing Inflammation
We hear a lot about how inflammation is bad for us, but the news reports rarely talk about it in-depth.When it comes to your oral health, inflammation can exacerbate periodontitis, make cleaning your teeth and gums harder, and cause pain and discomfort. Periodontal inflammation is one of the most reliable indicators of poor oral health.
Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants help your body regulate inflammation, and provide secondary benefits for your immune system and cell growth. By improving the regulation of your inflammatory response and keeping your gums healthy, you can keep small issues from turning into large ones.
What to Eat
Fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts are the “big three” for omega-3’s, although most people rely on fish oil supplements in order to hit their intake targets. Too much fish can definitely be a bad thing, and it’s easy to blow past your calorie targets.
Grapes, blueberries, dark leafy greens, and sweet potatoes, meanwhile, will keep you stocked up on antioxidants without disturbing the rest of your diet. Antioxidants are a common target for companies that sell “super supplements,” but you can usually get what you need through real food.
Calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D: The Keys to Remineralization
There’s been a recent surge of products and supplements that promise “full tooth remineralization,” but the science doesn’t quite work that way. Remineralization is a slow process, and it’s usually one that mitigates or slows tooth decay; you have to be doing everything else right in order to see the pendulum swing the other way, and it isn’t something that can be sped up.
Remineralization can’t happen without calcium and phosphorus, though, and vitamin D plays a significant role in your body’s calcium absorption process. While there are ongoing studies and obscure email newsletters that focus on more niche micronutrients, these three are still the foundation of the process.
What to Eat
Since phosphorus is a common ingredient in thickeners and preservatives, we tend to eat excessive amounts of non-bioavailable phosphates. This can cause problems for individuals with kidney disease, as these high-phosphate additives are hard to transport. Consequently, there are two distinct elements to the “how much phosphorus should I eat?” conversation: defining the upper limit for added phosphates, and the lower limit for natural phosphorus.
Bones, beans, and sunflower seeds are great sources for phosphorus (and the first two are decent sources of calcium, too!). Buy meat that’s on the bone for stews and slow-cooked meals, add beans to existing recipes, and diversify your snack list; these three are fairly easy!
Staying Level-Headed About Healthy Eating
Looking for dietary cures for specific health issues is an easy way to fall down a rabbit hole into the strange and scientifically unrigorous realm of folk medicine. Your diet is important, and while a general move away from processed foods and towards “things we used to eat” will nudge you in the right direction, there are no shortcuts.
By supporting tissue growth, limiting inflammation, and promoting healthy teeth through your *long-term* diet you can make everything else you do for your oral health more effective. On an appropriate timescale (years, not months or weeks), this can improve the appearance of your teeth, limit oral discomfort, and accelerate the recovery of damaged gum tissue. It’s a slow process, but it is a process.
Visit Dr. Halsema for a gum assessment and consultation. She can answer your questions about healthy eating and supplements.