1. Up your vitamin C intake
It’s long been considered an immune system essential, but that’s not all vitamin C does: it’s actually the cement that holds all of your cells together. “So just as it’s vital for your skin, it’s important for the health of your gum tissue,” explains dentist Paula Shannon Jones. People who consumed less than 60mg of this power vitamin a day (one orange contains more than 80mg) were 25% more likely to have gum disease than people who stocked up on 180mg or more, according to a US study of more than 12,000 people. Impressive!
Quick fix: Add a daily glass of OJ to your breakfast routine. Better yet? Keep fresh oranges on hand for a snack.
2. Brush after every swim
Quirky but true: dental researchers have found that excessively chlorinated pool water can erode and stain tooth enamel. Yes, really! If you’re a frequent swimmer, pack a toothbrush along with your towel when you take your next dip. “More chlorine in a pool may equal more protection against bacteria, but over- doing it lowers the pool’s pH level and makes it dangerously acidic,” explains dentist Matt Messina. Good to know.
Quick fix: Brush your teeth and use a fluoride rinse immediately after spending more than an hour in the pool. “If you’re swimming a lot and have any tooth discomfort whatsoever, check with your dentist,” Messina adds.
3. Go for whole grains
Whole grains are like dental insurance —that’s the take-away from McMaster University, Canada, research. The study found whole grains help keep teeth healthier longer, adding this to a laundry list of their benefits (which includes keeping your heart healthy, preventing diabetes, and more). Among 34,000 men studied for 14 years, those who ate at least three daily whole grain servings were 23% less likely to suffer tooth-loosening gum inflammation (periodontitis) than those averaging fewer than one. Added bonus? Eating more whole grains helps stabilise blood sugar levels, which has been shown to reduce periodontitis in diabetics.
Quick fix: Swap white rice and regular pasta for fibre-rich brown and wholemeal varieties. Also, be a label detective—scan the fine print to make sure brown rice or whole grains are listed as the first ingredient. Simple!
4. Add more yoghurt and cheese to your plate
The same way the calcium in these tasty treats promotes strong bones, it’s also necessary to protect your pearly whites. People who get at least 800mg a day are less likely to develop severe gum disease, according to a US study. The reason: about 99% of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. Dietary calcium—available in foods like cheese, milk and yoghurt—strengthens the alveolar bone in the jaw, which in turn helps hold your teeth in place.
Quick fix: Fill up on 1000mg of calcium per day, which is the RDI for women younger than 51, or 1300mg for those older. A calcium supplement could do the trick, but you should aim to get as much as you can from your diet. You’ll get about 300mg from a glass of milk, a 200g serving of yoghurt, or a 40-60g portion of cheese. Easy!
5. Brew green tea at 3pm
Turns out, the antioxidants in your favourite afternoon pick-me-up are also good for your gums. Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease. “Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of bacteria,” explains Christine Wu, PhD, director of cariology research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it’s steeped in). “Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral which helps protect teeth from cavities,” explains resident Colgate expert Dr Sue Cartwright. “Its main mode of action is the inhibition of the breakdown and the strengthening of the calcium phosphate crystals that make up tooth structure.” We’ll take more of that.
Quick fix: Steep a cuppa every afternoon. Added energy bonus: a hit of caffeine for that post-lunch pick-me-up.
6. Chomp an apple a day
It’s not just a doctor deflector; it helps keep the dentist away, too! Crunchy foods, like apples, celery and carrots, act like tiny toothbrushes when you chew them, and actually help scrub away stubborn stains over time. The cleansing effect on your teeth may be noticeable—if ever so slightly— especially if you’re a coffee drinker who wasn’t eating apples daily to begin with. The mildly acidic nature and astringent quality of apples, combined with their rough, fibre-rich flesh, makes them the ideal food for cleansing and brightening teeth.
Quick fix: If you decide to start chomping an apple a day as a snack and don’t get the chance to brush afterwards, chase it with a glass of water. The reason? “This helps to flush some of the food debris from your mouth, remove some of the dietary acids and can provide additional fluoride (if you’re drinking tap water in a fluoridated area), all of which help prevent tooth decay,” notes Cartwright. Plus, that’s your rehydration sorted