Nature's toothbrushes: five foods that help keep your teeth clean

Jack Rear
Toothbrush - Digital Vision

It's easy to feel anxious about the effect of what we consume on our precious teeth. We all know that sugar can cause decay, and caffeine can stain them brown –but did you know that there are certain foods that are actively good for your teeth?

OK, these teeth-healthy snacks are not a replacement for brushing twice per day – that's non-negotiable – but they do serve a reminder that the food you eat, especially at that crucial 3pm snack time, can go a long way to assisting your current oral health regime.

On World Oral Health Day, to help you make good oral health snacking choices today, we sought out the advice of dental professionals Sakina Syed, a hygienist for Bupa Dental Care in London’s Bank practice, and Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, who described the ‘natural toothbrushes’ that can help maintain your smile, as well as a few foods to be avoided.

Nature's toothbrushes

Apples

An apple a day keeps the dentist away; not the most famous phrase, but an accurate one according to Syed. “Apples’ fibrous skins can help clean teeth and work as natural massager for the gums. The juicy flesh can also work well for removing other food debris from between teeth. Of course sometimes even apple may get stuck, so it’s worth flossing if needed”

However, she notes that apples do contain a lot of natural sugar, so remember to rinse your mouth with water afterwards to prevent sugar and acid remaining in and around the gums.

Salads

Specifically, you’ll want to enjoy some leafy greens like kale, spinach, and celery. All of these are full of fibre and low in calories. Just like apples, this means they’re great at scrubbing away food debris and plaque, but these particular veggies also contain calcium which helps to strengthen teeth.

“We know getting vegetables into meals for children can be testing, but shredding some kale or spinach into a sandwich instead of lettuce is a great way to pack in some leafy goodness,” suggests Syed.

Carrots

Credit: Francesco Perre/EyeEm

You’re getting the point here, right? Fibrous fruit and vegetables are good for your teeth. But carrots have other benefits too, explains Syed. “Crunchy foods require more chewing, which stimulates saliva production and naturally cleans teeth. In addition, carrots contain multiple B vitamins which fight gingivitis.”

Nuts

We already know that nuts are a bit of a wonder food. They’ve got healthy fats, protein, and, importantly for teeth, they have the same saliva-inducing crunch factor as carrots. In addition, Syed notes that nuts are “packed full of calcium” which is good for maintaining healthy food.

Cheese

Syed is quick to say that you should enjoy this one in moderation. However, if you don’t eat too much, it can do wonders for your teeth. “Cheese contains high levels of phosphate and calcium, which naturally strengthen teeth and bones, but it also helps balance the pH level in your mouth, which means less harmful acid, more cleansing saliva, and fewer cavities.”

 

Food to avoid

Sweets

Sugar, doo doo doo doo doo doo, oh honey, honey… do you even need this one to be explained? Sweets are bad for your teeth because they’re basically pure sugar. Bacteria in your mouth converts this sugar into acid which harms the enamel of your teeth. Hard sweets are the worst of all, explains Walmsley. “Hard candies also put your teeth at risk they can also trigger a dental emergency such as a broken or chipped tooth.”

Alcohol

Remember how nuts and carrots help the production of saliva which, in turn, naturally cleans your teeth? Well, alcohol does the complete opposite, drying out your mouth, so saliva can’t do its job.

Credit: franckreporter/Getty Images Contributor

Red wine is a particular offender because it is full of chromogens which are pigments which cause discolouration and tannins which bind them to to your teeth. Walmsley advises “try to keep wine at mealtimes to dilute the effect and wait around an hour till brushing your teeth as the slightly soft tooth rehardens naturally with time.”

Fizzy drinks

Pretty much everyone knows that fizzy drinks are bad for your teeth because they’re full of sugar. Even in the sugar-free ones, the carbonation process enables the plaque to produce more acid which attacks your tooth enamel. One 2013 study found that excessive consumption of fizzy drinks is as bad for your teeth as methamphetamines or cocaine, so it might be useful to mix up your drinking habits.

Fruit juices

“Although fruit juice contains important vitamins, it also contains very high amounts of sugar and acidity which are both bad for your teeth,” explains Walmsley. “Some fruit juices even have added sugar. It is recommended that you have no more than one small glass a day and that’s with a meal.”

Crisps

While crisps definitely have the same crunch factor as carrots, they’re definitely not as good for your mouth because they’re so starchy. That starch is broken down into sugar which, as we know, helps mouth bacteria to create acid. Crisps are particularly bad because, as anyone who has stuffed their faces with too many McCoy’s will know, crisps tend to get stuck in your teeth, meaning their effects can last a while.

And the increasingly-popular alternative, popcorn, isn’t great either, adds Walmsley: “Particularly if you have crowns or filled teeth. The uncooked kernels in the popcorn can lodge between the teeth and the gums, causing fillings or teeth to break.”