Snacks That Give Your Tooth Brush a Helping Hand
Who among us can reasonably deny that we don’t know which foods are bad for our teeth? It’s almost impossible to make it through your childhood years without seeing the warning lists of foods and drinks that are bad for you. Sugary soft drinks, we’re warned about. Acidic juices, we’re chastised for.
The effect of constant opposition to many of our favourite foods can make them more tantalisingly attractive, but to counter that appeal we have put together a list of and snacks that can actually help keep your teeth cleaner between brushings.
These foods are also worth keeping in mind if you ever find yourself on the road without a toothbrush, or unable to brush your teeth for a period of time for whatever reason. The current health of your teeth will be a combination of effects from your diet and your dental hygiene, but these foods will give you a boost to both, and most of them are things you probably like to eat. There has never been a better reason to start snacking!
Carrots and Celery
Any food which is firm and crunchy will need a lot of chewing to break down, and this chewing promotes saliva production. This is the same mechanism by which sugar-free gum works; the chewing produces saliva, and the saliva protects your teeth. Any crunchy raw vegetable would work, but carrots and celery are the most popular raw veggies and have a high water content, which further moves the saliva around your mouth.
Where they score even more points against sugar-free gum is that the movement of carrot or celery fibres across the surface of your teeth can scrub them in the exact same way a toothbrush does. Even if they find their way into crevices and need to be removed, that simply means they are scraping out whatever else was in there with them, and they do not promote the growth of bacteria. It helps that carrot is also an extremely nutritious food in its own right, and easy to carry around as snacks.
An apple a day can help keep the dentist away, as not only are they high in water and fibre, they also help increase saliva production as you chew away on your favourite granny smith or red gala. As an added bonus, the fibre found in apples also stimulates the gums.
Cheese may seem like an odd choice for keeping your teeth clean, however, cheese can change the pH of your mouth. Many of the most delicious foods are acidic; if you were to check, you’d be surprised how much of your diet contains vinegar or acid components. A low pH, or acidic, mouth will cause a gradual loss of teeth enamel, which makes it easier for bacteria to cause decay. Cheese has been shown to have the effect of raising the mouth’s pH for a period of time after consuming it, combating this decay.
Of course, cheese also contains calcium, casein and phosphorus, which remineralise the teeth and strengthen enamel once digested through your system. The benefits of cheese keep going long after the flavour has passed from your tongue. So feel free to order that cheese board at the end of a meal.
Nuts are a very dense food, which requires a great deal of mechanical chewing in order to swallow them comfortably. This action, as we’ve already learned, signals your mouth to produce more saliva, and the friction of harder substances against the teeth clear them of other food that may be clinging to them. Their incredible nutritional content is of course a welcome bonus. Try to eat raw nuts if possible, as they will provide the most benefit, and drink water afterwards to ensure no nut fragments remain in your teeth.
You might find this entrant on the list puzzling if you think of herbs only in the form of finely diced additions to cooked dishes. But chewing or eating certain fresh herbs is an excellent, and old-fashioned, way to keep your teeth clean. The traditional ones chosen for this role are parsley and mint. Parsley in particular contains a lot of chlorophyll, which seems to neutralise bad breath through an enzyme reaction. It is also a potent source of essential oils and antioxidants, so each mouthful of parsley is also doing your body good. Its chemical composition is so potent, however, that if you eat too much of it, it can begin to affect you negatively. Only chew a small amount of parsley when cleaning your mouth mid-meals.
Another major contender is liquorice root, although you may find this harder to get your hands on, as well as stranger to your palate. These can not only be chewed on, but actually used as an alternative toothbrush. You first chew the end of a slender root into a mass of fibres, and then use that end to brush the surfaces of your teeth. This fulfils all the physical scrubbing requirements of teeth brushing, although it does not provide fluoride or bacteria-killing components. If you want to go even more left-field than liquorice root, see if you can source some Miswak twigs!
Most of us will have heard of oil pulling by now, and while few of us are likely to have a bottle of oil on hand to clean our teeth, it still rates a mention, simply as a replacement for commercial mouthwash for people who find that too unpleasant. The action of sucking and swirling the oil around your mouth loosens debris and reduces the bacterial population of your mouth. When the oil becomes cloudy and thinner, it is time to spit it out.
The only downside is that unlike mouthwash, the oil needs to be swished gently around your mouth for about 20 minutes to gain the full benefit. Most people use coconut oil for this procedure, but the most traditional substance was actually sesame oil, and sunflower oil is also suitable (and much cheaper).
Your body cannot produce beneficial saliva if you are dehydrated. Keeping well hydrated by taking regular mouthfuls of water during the day not only makes your mouth feel fresher, it also decreases the growth of bacteria as well. This keeps bad breath at bay, and the rinsing motion of water through your mouth can also clear away food debris.
The tannins in tea can stain your teeth, and any sugar that you add to your cup is going to play for Team Bacteria, but green and black tea both contain polyphenols, a substance that actually suppresses the growth of bacteria. Combined with the rinsing motion of drinking, this makes a cup of tea a helpful aid to oral health just after a meal.
Green tea is also anti-inflammatory and can promote good gum health, as well as having a huge range of benefits to the rest of your body. Another good choice, although less readily available, is white tea, which also contains some bio-available fluoride. Avoid herbal teas, which may not contain true tea at all, and usually include dried fruit, which is a huge sugar hit.
Adding a small amount of plain milk will reduce the staining action of tea, but a commercial creamer may have added sugar. It is also important to remember that teeth stains from tea, while visually unpleasant, are not usually bad for your teeth and can be removed with teeth whitening products.
So there you have it folks, our guide to snacking your way to cleaner, healthier teeth!