The Best and Worst Foods for a Healthy Smile

The Best and Worst Foods for a Healthy Smile

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a tremendous benefit to your oral health. A well-balanced, nutritious diet is important because the food we eat supplies the nutrients that the body, bones, teeth and gums need to renew tissues and help fight infection and disease — including periodontal (gum) disease. But there’s another important aspect to choosing the right foods when it comes to protecting your teeth: The more immediate effect that certain foods have in terms of tooth decay and gum disease. However, the situation isn’t so clear-cut as “good” foods versus “bad” foods. Even some foods that deliver health benefits can damage tooth enamel if you don’t brush soon after eating them! Keep reading to learn more!

According to the University of Rochester’s Health Encyclopedia, “When you drink and eat starchy or sugary foods, you’re not only feeding yourself. You’re also feeding the germs (bacteria) that can cause tooth decay and gum disease in your mouth. Plaque is a thin, invisible, sticky film of bacteria and other materials. It covers all the surfaces of all your teeth. When sugars or starches in your mouth come in contact with plaque, acids form. These acids can attack your teeth for 20 minutes or longer after you finish eating. Repeated attacks can break down the hard enamel on the surface of teeth. This leads to tooth decay. The bacteria in plaque also triggers an inflammatory response. This causes the breakdown of the gums, bone, and other supporting structures of your teeth.”

Beneficial and Bad Foods for Your Teeth

You shouldn’t be surprised that foods recommended for their overall health benefits are good for supporting oral health — or at least, not identified for attacking enamel or promoting plaque build-up. On the other hand, the foods and drinks that consist mainly (or only) of sugar and refined starches should likewise come as no surprise as falling under the “bad” list. There may be one eye-opener under the foods to avoid, which we’ll explain! Our blog post — “Good and Bad Foods for Your Teeth and Gums” — covers these foods in greater detail.

An article by Colgate covers the best foods for your teeth. The highlights include the following foods and their benefits.


  • Leafy greens — Kale, spinach, chard, collard greens, etc., are high in calcium, folic acid, and B vitamins. If you use them in a salad, be careful with the dressing! Read the label to make sure it’s low in sugar and fat, or you’ll defeat the purpose.
  • Apples, carrots, and celery — Apples provide hydration and fiber. Replacing sugary treats with apples promotes good saliva production. Celery helps clean your teeth because the texture can scrape leftover food particles and bacteria away from them. Carrots and celery also are great sources of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
  • Dairy products — Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other related products are high in calcium and protein and promote saliva production to prevent dryness (which promotes plaque build-up). If you’re lactose-intolerant, use calcium- and protein-fortified nut milk, such as almond, soy, or cashew.
  • Tea, nuts, and lean proteins — Unsweetened black and green teas provide plaque-fighting ingredients. Because black tea can stain teeth, drink with a straw, if possible. Lean beef, fish, poultry, and tofu have phosphorus and protein to help keep teeth healthy. Almonds are a good source of calcium and protein while being low in sugar. 
  • Foods containing fluoride — Fluoride plays a vital role in building strong teeth and bones, helping prevent tooth decay. Eating foods with fluoride helps your teeth absorb this mineral, allowing it to help make your teeth acid-resistant. Most seafood is a good source of fluoride because oceans are full of natural sodium fluoride. Carrots, beets, canned pork and beans, canned tomato products, and cheeses all have some fluoride. This list of fluoride-enriched foods can be found on the USDA National Nutrient Database.

Now to the list of the worst foods and beverages for your teeth, courtesy of Healthline and Dental Choice. While these are the most common, any food containing a high level of sugar or that is highly acidic needs to be eaten in moderation, followed by brushing and flossing as soon after the meal as possible.


  • Sour candies — Candy, in general, contains large amounts of sugar, but sour candy contains more and different kinds of acids that are tougher on your teeth. Most of these candies are chewy, meaning they will hang around in your mouth for a while, increasing the risk of cavities.
  • Bread — When you chew bread, your saliva breaks down the starches into sugar. Now transformed into a gummy paste-like substance, the bread sticks to the crevices between teeth. And that can cause cavities. Look for less-refined bread varieties, such as whole wheat. These contain less added sugars and aren’t as easily broken down.
  • Potato chips — This popular snack is loaded with starch, which becomes sugar that can get trapped in and between the teeth, which feeds the bacteria in plaque. 
  • Soda, sports drinks, and juice — Continuously sipping sugary beverages like soda or juice feeds the bacteria in your mouth. Again, when bacteria feed on the sugar on your teeth, they leave damaging acids behind. 
  • Pickles and pickled foods — Vinegar has acid, which is important in the pickling process. This acid not only can cause staining but can wear away your teeth’s enamel. Most pickled foods also have sugar.
  • Alcohol — Besides containing a high sugar content, alcohol dries out your mouth. This is a problem, as saliva functions as a cleansing agent, washing away food particles that stick to your teeth and gums. Drink water between alcoholic drinks to stay hydrated – and count the number of those drinks! The short- and long-term detrimental effects of alcohol on health and well-being are well-documented.
  • Citrus fruits — Oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are packed with vitamin C. But their acid content can erode enamel. Even squeezing a lemon or lime into water adds acid to a drink. To get their antioxidant and nutritional benefits, eat/drink them in moderation at mealtime and rinse with water afterward.
  • Dried fruits — Here’s the culprit you may not suspect! You likely assume that dried fruits are a healthy snack. That may be true, but many dried fruits — apricots, prunes, figs, and raisins, to name a few — are sticky. They get stuck and cling in the teeth and their crevices, leaving behind plenty of sugar. If you eat dried fruits, rinse your mouth with water, then brush and floss after. And because they’re less concentrated with sugar, it is a better choice to eat the fresh versions instead!
  • Ice — Although not technically a food, ice is on this list because many people chew it — a bad habit that can crack and chip teeth. 

How To Minimize Damage Caused by Starchy or Sugary Foods

Eliminating between-meal snacks — which usually consist of high-fat, high-sugar “junk” food — is a good first step in minimizing the opportunity that the processes for tooth decay and gum disease have to take hold and progress. However, making good snack choices can also help give you a boost with high-quality sustained energy during the mid-afternoon slump. Fresh fruit, nuts, and yogurt are great for both overall and oral health. Be sure to check the label of yogurt brands, as some are high in sugar and fat.

If you can’t resist the occasional sweet or starchy treat, brush your teeth as soon as possible after eating. If you can, keep a kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss at your workplace. It’s preferable to get into the habit of brushing after lunch at work, no matter what’s on the menu! If brushing isn’t practical, chew sugarless gum afterward to increase saliva flow and wash out food and acid.

The American Dental Association (ADA) offers these tips to help reduce the risk of tooth decay from the foods you eat, courtesy of the University of Rochester Medical Center:

  • Eat sugary foods with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva during meals. This helps to reduce the effect of acid production and to rinse pieces of food from the mouth.
  • Drink more water. Fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. If you choose bottled water, check the label for the fluoride content.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Floss once a day.

Of course, scheduling regular twice-yearly appointments with your dentist for an examination and cleaning is the cornerstone of maintaining oral health. If you suffer from a dry mouth due to prescription medications or other reasons, speak with your dentist, who can prescribe a mouthwash to moisturize your mouth. Prescription fluoride toothpaste may be recommended by your dentist if your teeth need additional protection. Prescription fluoride toothpaste contains a higher amount of fluoride than over-the-counter toothpaste brands.

The Take-Home Message

At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh, and our endodontist, Dr. Sabek.

We serve the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park with the dedication that’s earned us the reputation as the Best Dentist in Chicago!

We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.

Schedule your visit through ZocDoc, or contact us directly. We look forward to treating you soon and improving your smile!


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