Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Top Foods for Beautiful Teeth

If you’ve learned the hard way that sticky, sugary foods lead to cavities, you’ll be happy to know that certain foods, beverages and common herbs can prevent them. They’re part of a dental diet that safeguards healthy teeth by neutralizing harmful bacteria, fortifying enamel and reducing gum disease.


For example, crunchy fruits and vegetables ply off plaque like a toothbrush, while healthy fats from fish may reduce gum disease.
The latest research shows the mouth acts like a microcosm of the body.
“Conditions in the mouth often contribute to disease in the body,” says David Lerner, D.D.S., a holistic dentist from Yorktown, N.Y.
That’s because the root of most chronic diseases, above the neck and below, is inflammation-causing bacteria, which enter the bloodstream through the mouth. In fact, gum disease can signal – or even trigger – serious systemic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
“Gum disease is like the canary in the coal mine,” says Philippe P. Hujoel, D.D.S., from Washington State University’s Epidemiology Department.


Paying attention to a healthy dental diet is particularly important for women. Rising hormone levels – around puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause – can actually spur the growth of bacteria that lead to plaque and attack healthy teeth, says Rhea Haugseth, D.D.S., president-elect of the American Academy of Dentistry.
So include more of these 12 foods in your diet, and your next dental appointment may be a breeze.


1. Crunchy vegetables
Crunchy, water-rich snacks, like carrots, celery and apples, act like nature's toothbrush to keep your teeth healthy. Chewing crispy vegetables scrapes teeth and gradually chips off harmful plaque between them.
Plus, they stimulate saliva production, which neutralizes Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that triggers cavities in healthy teeth, according to the American Dental Hygienists Association.


2. Fish
Gum disease is 20% lower in people who eat a diet rich in omega-3s, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish and linolenic acid (LNA) from plant-food sources, according to a 2010 study by Harvard researcher Asghar Z. Naqvi, M.Ph.
Fish are rich in DHA and EPA, while LNA rich foods include flaxseed, walnuts, pecans (whole and nut butters) and oils such as canola, hemp, pumpkin seed and extra virgin olive oil.
Because researchers asked participants to guess their intake of omega-3 foods, the actual amount of DHA, EPA and/or LNA wasn’t exact. But they concluded health benefits came primarily from diet, not supplements. Those who used supplements didn’t show any additional advantage, researchers say.


3. Beta-Carotene-Packed Produce
Orange-colored vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and winter squash, are loaded with beta-carotene (vitamin A), an essential nutrient for forming strong bones, and healthy teeth and gum tissue.
Diets low in these nutrients can lead to increased tooth loss, research shows. Meals high in simple carbohydrates, like rice and sugary foods, and low in vitamin-A-rich vegetables resulted in more decay than those with fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene, according to a 2009 study of more than 20,000 Japanese dentists.
Best sources are orange-colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya and squash, as well as green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.


4. Mushrooms
When plaque lingers on teeth, it hardens and forms tartar, which leads to gum disease. Only a dental hygienist can remove tartar, but shiitake mushrooms can stop plaque from forming in the first place.
A 2000 Japanese study at Nihon University found that a sugar in shiitake mushrooms (lentinan) creates an unfriendly environment for various plaque-causing Streptococcus bacteria.
Beating plaque is as easy as adding a cup of shiitake mushrooms to a stir-fry or stew.


5. Vitamin-C-Rich Fruits and Veggies
Building strong gum tissue requires a plentiful diet of fruits and vegetables because of their vitamin C content. It helps prevent gingivitis, a disease that causes gums to redden, swell, bleed and ultimately leads to tooth loss.
According to research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who consume less than 60 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day had nearly 1-1/2 times more risk of developing severe gingivitis than those who took in 180 mg a day – the same amount you’d find in a half cup of guava.
A cup of raw broccoli or half a cantaloupe has 75 mg of vitamin C, nearly a full day’s minimum requirement for women (the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) is 85 mg for women 19 and older).
Do you smoke? Then, you’ll need 35 mg more vitamin C per day to ward off gingivitis, because cigarettes reduce vitamin C levels in the blood, according to a 2000 study by the State University of New York at Buffalo, published in the Journal of Periodontology.


6. Cheese
Everyone knows dairy products are tooth-friendly because of calcium. But here’s another reason to eat cheese: It can stop cavities.
Cavities like an acidic environment, and certain cheeses, like aged cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and Monterey Jack, help balance pH levels in your mouth.
When eaten alone as a snack or at the end of a meal, these stimulate saliva flow, which clears the mouth of food debris and neutralizes harmful acids.
Furthermore, teeth constantly go through a process of shedding and regaining bone-building minerals, called demineralization and remineralization.
When the calcium and phosphorus in cheese combine with saliva, the reaction restores minerals, thus keeping teeth stronger, Haugseth says.


7. Almonds
To stay strong, healthy teeth need a combination of phosphorus for bone formation; vitamin D and magnesium for calcium absorption; vitamin B to prevent mouth sores; and vitamin C and potassium for strong gum tissue.
One food packed with all these healthy-teeth nutrients is an ounce of almonds (about 20-25 nuts).
Almonds also neutralize cavity-causing acids, says David Leader, D.D.S, assistant clinical professor at Tufts Dental School in Boston.


8. Chocolate
Candy is a dentist’s nemesis, but unique properties in cocoa and its husk actually maintain healthy teeth, according to several new studies.
Cocoa extracts work as well as fluoride to strengthen teeth and protect them from decay, Japanese researchers at Osaka University discovered. But not just any chocolate will do.
Tulane University researchers compared different types of European chocolate and found that dark chocolate, made from 70% cocoa, had the most protective effect, because it contains the most polyphenols (health-boosting compounds) to protect teeth.
And it doesn’t take much. Study participants ate a small 15 gram (g) piece of dark chocolate (approximately 76 calories).
The study’s lead researcher Arman Sadeghpour, has even proposed a new peppermint-cocoa toothpaste called Theodent, pending FDA approval, as an effective natural alternative to fluoride in toothpaste.
The Tulane study could prove beneficial especially since earlier this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that Americans might be getting too much fluoride from drinking water and food sources. Too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis, resulting in a permanent staining of teeth and brittle bones.


9. Tea
A cup of tea can do more than soothe nerves. It’s good for healthy teeth too. Black or green tea is a rich source of micronutrients that reduce gum disease and prevent cavities, according to a 2004 Rutgers University study. Researchers showed antioxidants in green tea, called catechins, reduce gum inflammation.
While some avoid tea for fear of staining teeth, black tea contains polyphenols that produce a protective film that coats and shields teeth from cavity-causing bacteria.
10. Herbs and Spices
Great taste is just one reason to use sweet-smelling herbs. Spices like cinnamon and green herbs like mint, parsley and thyme are flush with monoterpenes, highly volatile compounds that make breath smell fresh and, more importantly, contain antibacterial properties that prevent cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans bacteria.
This is especially true for chewing gum. In 2004, University of Illinois researchers tested various chewing gums and found that brands with essential plant oils reduced bacteria that cause bad breath and cavities. Though the oils were used for flavor, even a small amount reduced bacteria, says Christine Wu, professor of periodontics and associate dean for research at the UIC College of Dentistry.
The helpful plant extracts were cinnamon and mint. Artificially flavored gum did little for dental health. In fact, the original formula for Listerine was made from a blend of menthol (from mint) and thymol (from thyme).
So next time you see a sprig of mint on your plate, don’t leave it. Eat it.


11. Onions
Your great-grandmother may not have known why onions relieve toothaches, but she was on the right track when she put a piece on a painful tooth or gum tissue.
Onions contain vitamin C and a host of antibacterial compounds like quercetin and isothiocyanates, according to research by the NIH. These plant-based antioxidants reduce bacteria and relieve inflammation, not to mention dental worries.


12. Wasabi
Japanese horseradish is a hot ingredient in the culinary world, but this spicy condiment also safeguards healthy teeth by fighting bacteria that cause cavities and gum abscesses.

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