Brushing and flossing, check. No sticky candy, check. These choices will go a long way for helping your mouth stay healthy and beautiful but they aren't the only part — or even the biggest part — of the equation.
Your teeth are constantly remineralized and demineralized, every day, all day long. In order to reverse existing decay, you have to make your REmineralization outweigh your DEmineralization and foods have a HUGE role in this process. Foods high in mineral content nourish your saliva and supply it with what your teeth need to remineralize their structure. Think about it like this: All the brushing and flossing in the world won't reverse cavities if you're still eating demineralizing foods most of the time.
When your oral microbiome is out of whack, the bad bacteria that grow when you eat tooth decay-causing foods aren’t kept in check. As a result, those bacteria can travel all the way to the gut—potentially wreaking havoc throughout the body and proving that what happens in the mouth happens in the body.
To put your best face forward, include these foods in your daily diet, recommends functional dentist Mark Burhenne.
1. Herbs, especially Minty ones
Natural herbs used either exclusively or in combination are proven to be safe and effective in the management of various oral health problems (1). Incorporate cilantro, parsley, turmeric, mint, neem, Tulsi leaves, eucalyptus oil, and aloe vera into your diet.
Parsley is perhaps the richest herbal source for Vitamin K, which you'll read below is important for teeth health.
Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium with 1 cup of yogurt containing the same amount of calcium as 1 cup milk. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Normally we think of calcuim as the building block of bones and teeth, but it also bonds with tooth enamel and is vital for proper teeth remineralization (2).
According to recent research, vitamin D in yogurt helps promotes an inhospitable environment for bacteria in your mouth. Also try kefir, a drinkable yogurt. With either form, avoid those with lots of added sugar and be sure they contain live, active cultures (check the label). In general, a 6-ounce serving of yogurt contains 80 IUs vitamin D, but the amount can be higher (or lower) depending on how much is added.
Cheese has a great track record in scientific studies of strengthening teeth (which is a little odd, since it's on the acidic side). The French are on to something! Increasing evidence points to cheese eaten at the end of the meal as helpful in supporting tooth health, reducing the breakdown of tooth enamel, and neutralizing acids formed in plaque. Grass-fed cheese is ideal so you get the vitamin K2 benefits. Opt for smaller batches if possible and avoid processed cheese when possible.
Cheese is also high in calcium, which bonds with tooth enamel and aids in remineralization of the teeth.
4. Crunchy, Raw Vegetables and Fruits
Fruits and vegetables are important for the health of your mouth and teeth for many different reasons!
Prebiotic foods, like leafy greens, nourish the oral microbiome and provide "food" for the healthy bacteria in your mouth. Organic is NOT always necessary — buy organic for produce without a thick skin & buy local if you can (mineral depletion & transport time impact nutrient density). I refer to the EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list as an easy way to determine what foods to buy organic.
Many fruits and vegetable are a great source of magnesium. This includes: bananas, leafy greens, and avocado.
Biting into firm foods, such as carrots and apples can actually help clean the teeth of food particles stuck in the crevices. "Crunch!"
Orange colored fruits and vegetables are typically high in beta-carotene, which your body uses to make vitamin A. Vitmain A is very important for healthy teeth.
5. Cacao Nibs
Dark chocolate is as healthy as it is delicious. I recommend <80% dark chocolate. The darker it is, the healthier it is. It’s very rich in magnesium, and when it comes to teeth health, magnesium has a balancing effect on calcium metabolism and may supports normal distribution of calcium into bones and teeth (not into the arteries). Most importantly, to reap the full benefits of vitamin D (and, by extension, vitamins K2 and A), you need magnesium.
Along with phosphorus and potassium, magnesium is an important mineral your bones and teeth use to remineralize. The more calcium you consume, the more magnesium you need. Without enough magnesium, calcium won’t be able to harden your teeth correctly.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of dark chocolate contains 64 mg magnesium — that’s 16% of the RDI. Dark chocolate is also in high in iron, copper and manganese and contains prebiotic fiber that feeds your healthy gut bacteria (3).
This fruit is one of those strange foods that is technically acidic but has a positive impact on the oral microbiome.
Multiple studies have shown pomegranate juice can: ✔ Stop the formation of new colonies of plaque-causing bacteria strains from the Streptococci and Lactobacilli family. ✔ Massively increase antioxidant activity to prevent cell damage and beat oxidative stress in the mouth (reducing your risk of oral disease). ✔ Reduce gum bleeding.
Fun fact: Green tea is one of the most POWERFUL substances you can consume for better oral health, and pomegranate juice contains 3X the antioxidants found in green tea!
7. Matcha Green Tea
Matcha green tea was the secret weapon of samurai warriors, who drank it before going into battle. Japanese monks drank matcha in Zen Buddhist ceremonies before entering intensive periods of stillness and meditation.
Research suggests there is an explicit association between the consumption of green tea and oral health. EGCG is a type of antioxidant found in green tea and matcha green tea. It has been shown to reduce the growth of bacteria in the mouth that leads to cavities (4). EGCG is one of several “catechins” in green teas, and these antioxidants are one reason green tea is so great for your overall health.
While matcha isn’t necessarily higher in EGCG than regular green tea, it does contain approximately three times more antioxidants than high-quality green tea. This is due to the way matcha is grown under shade, leading to a high chlorophyll content. Matcha is also produced using the entire leaf of the tea plant, resulting in a higher amount of antioxidants than regular green tea.
High quality tea is a must and my favorite is Pique Tea.
8. Sugarless Gum
Xylitol is the ingredient to look for in gum. It makes the best sweetener in chewing gum.
9. Grass-fed/Pastured Animal Products
Grass-fed pastured animal products, such as eggs, meats, butter, and cheeses are excellent dietary sources of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and vitamin K2.
Let's pay specific attention to vitamin K2. What does vitamin K2 have to do with your mouth? It's very important for strong teeth and bones. Vitamin K2 supplements are made with two very different strains: MK-4 and/or MK-7 (some supplements contain only one; others contain both). MK-4 is a synthetic vitamin K2, so the preferred form is MK-7, a natural vitamin K2 from natto. Effective daily dosage is between 90-120 micrograms/day, and you only need to take it once a day for therapeutic benefit.
For vitamin K2, the Japanese fermented soy food natto contains the highest concentration of vitamin K2 of any food. It's just hard to find outside of Japan!
Vitamin K2 should always be taken with vitamin D3 (either in the same supplement or two different supplements). Too much or too little of either one, especially if you take calcium supplements, can cause health issues. Myself and my kids prefere this D3/K2 chewable tablet that dissolves in your mouth.
Up to 90% of the population is deficient in this nutrient, but you need it to heal cavities (5). Eating more vitamin D foods or taking a vitamin D3/K2 supplement can help you get there.
Choosing Your Grass-fed, Pastured Food
CHICKEN: (eggs ＋ meat): Pasture-raised, non-GMO, & antibiotic-free. A more orange-colored yolk (vs. yellow) is a sign of vitamin K2-rich yolk.
BOVINE: BOVINE: 100% grass-fed & antibiotic-free
PORK: Pasture-raised, non-GMO, & antibiotic-free
FISH/SEAFOOD: Wild-caught salmon, pole-caught tuna, US shrimp (not imported), any crab, lobster, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, shellfish. Avoid tilapia & cod.
The Basics For Supporting Healthy Teeth
Avoid sugary, acidic, and highly processed foods as much as possible.
Fill at least 80 percent of your diet with nutrient-dense, lower carbohydrate foods.
Put crackers, pasta, bread, and other high-carb foods in the remaining 20% of your diet, as their sugar molecules break down nearly as fast as candy in the mouth. (i.e., those aren't nutrient-dense foods to eat regularly). These are the foods that put you at a high risk of demineralization.
When you "splurge" on that 20%, do it over a short period of time (don't sip or munch for hours on end), rinse your mouth with water when you finish, then brush 45 minutes later. Why brush after 45 minutes? After every meal the teeth undergo an acid attack and demineralize. The tooth is vulnerable to abrasion during this time, so waiting to brush is imperative in order to allow your saliva to break down the foods you've just eaten thoroughly. Brushing immediately before this happens can lead to literally brushing particles of food onto your teeth where they might cause tiny abrasions that weaken enamel. Thankfully, the remineralization cycle comes back after 30 minutes when pH stabilizes.
ALL content here is 100% inspired by Dr. Mark Burhenne, a functional dentist and amazon bestselling author who is way ahead of his time when it comes to the health of your mouth and teeth. Find him at askthedentist(6). If you want to locate a functional dentist in your area, go here. This great tool connects functionally minded patients with functionally minded dentists! A functionally minded dentist not only does restorative work, but also partners with the patient to identify the root cause of disease. This includes working on diet, lifestyle, and even sleep to support better health. They're proactive and preventative.
If a sink is overflowing with water, a functional dentist will actually turn off the water — not just "mop the floor." That's a big deal and the best approach.
In health and happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods