In an increasingly health-conscious society, where more and more of us are choosing leafy alternatives for the sake of our bodies, you may be forgiven for readily green-lighting a lifestyle that chooses a real orange over its chocolate alternative which goes by the name Terry. Yet the gatekeepers to what we put inside our bodies are just as – if not more – important.
So let’s start with the bad news. Whilst citrus fruits are, of course, packed with healthy vitamins and nutrients which are great for the body, its acidic content will erode the enamel on our teeth. In the biggest study to date, it was found that consuming citrus fruits more than twice a day resulted in being 37 times more likely to suffer from dental erosion than those who ate them less often. Combined with the high-amount of naturally-occurring sugars in these fruits which lead to cavities, it is something which must be taken into account when thinking about our oral health. It has long been known that fruit juices have this effect on our teeth, but the concern surrounding fruit itself – especially citrus fruits - is a newer, yet no less worrying reality.
And it’s not all rosy for vegetables, either. A German-based study found that a high-raw diet could lead to a higher incidence of enamel erosion, whilst another piece of research conducted by a group of dentists at the University of Dundee found that cooking certain vegetables, such as courgettes, peppers and onions, makes its acid content more concentrated, and therefore more damaging to teeth. The high quantity of oxalic acids in spinach, which are released in crystal form when you chew and cook it, can also coat the teeth – leaving a chalky feeling, whilst it has even been found that certain herbal teas can also cause more cavities, too.
But before you start quoting this article by way of explanation as to why you’ve dumped a real orange for Terry, there are, of course, things you can – and should – do, to minimise the negative effects on our teeth. When it comes to brushing, for example, you may be tempted to do so immediately after eating a citrus fruit, but it’s actually better to wait a bit afterwards before doing so. Similarly, greens like spinach and kale can be great for dental health, too, if paired with the right things, such as avocado or lemon, as this helps achieve a better absorption. Another study featured by New York-based physician, Michael Greger, even found that a higher intake of high-fibre foods – especially fruits – may slow the progression of periodontal disease, too.
As long as you follow the right oral care afterwards, therefore, eating fruits can actually have a positive effect on our oral health – especially teeth whitening. Strawberries not only contain malic acid that acts as natural way to remove surface stains on teeth, but also boasts antioxidants that can help reduce stain-attracting bacteria, pineapple contains a naturally-occurring enzyme called bromelain, which – thanks to its anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties – is effective as an ingredient in a stain-removing toothpaste whilst an apple a day may also keep the dentist away as it increases the production of saliva which helps to clean teeth and attack the bacteria that causes both plaque and bad breath.
Vegetables, of course, can also be great for your teeth, too. Arginine is an amino acid that can help reduce the risk of cavities, gum disease and gingivitis and is found in many types of beans, broccoli contains iron, which helps form an acid-resistant barrier that can protect the enamel of your teeth from staining and forming cavities, carrots contain vitamin A, which contributes to healthy tooth enamel and mushrooms contain a compound called lentinan, which stops bacteria from growing in your mouth and helps to both reduce plaque and prevent future build up. According to owner and director at Hooba Foods, Jay Croslegh, “Mushrooms are packed with protein which is great for tooth structure, antioxidants which help connective tissue development and are a great source of B vitamins, which may help with epithelial cell turnover!”
Coupled with even further evidence that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of oral cancer, it is clear that on balance, these foods – when eaten and treated properly – can be just as beneficial for our oral health as our overall health. Just remember to brush well after!
Written by Dr Imran Rangzeb- the principal dentist at the award-winning Town Hall Dental Practice.
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