Healthy foods for a healthy mouth

Good nutrition helps your body fight off infection, and keep your teeth and gums healthy. Here are some foods to choose

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fraise bouche

A healthy diet

A healthy diet can help keep your smile beautiful for years to come. But feeding that killer smile is about more than simply dodging decay-causing candy or stain-building red wine: it's about fueling your body so it can fight off infections, heal tissue faster and maintain strong bones and teeth. A poor diet compromises those goals, say the experts.

"If your diet lacks certain nutrients, it may be more difficult for tissues in your mouth to resist infection," says dentist Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association. Dr. Swan notes that while poor nutrition doesn't cause periodontal (gum) disease per se, research indicates it allows disease to progress faster-with more severe results.

So think of eating well as part of a preventive dental health plan-like daily brushing and flossing. "It's important to maintain optimal nutrition status so that many dental or medical problems can be prevented," says Toronto-based nutritionist Susan Fyshe.

Fortunately, what's good for your mouth is also good for the rest of your body. Here are some oral-health-promoting super-foods worth chomping down on, on a regular basis.

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dairy foods

1. Oral health superfood: Dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt

Why: "Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy teeth and bones," says Dr. Swan. (But you knew that already, right?) Dairy packs the most wallop when it comes to calcium- and vitamin-D loading.

Studies have shown that calcium from food sources is preferable to that from supplements, and that between our northern climate and use of sunscreen, it's difficult for our skin to produce sufficient D from sunlight.

Upshot: Get your daily dose of calcium and D from wholesome food sources.

Alternative superfoods: Tofu, almonds, canned salmon, beans, broccoli and other dark leafy greens, fortified OJ, soy or rice beverage

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whole-grain

2. Oral health superfoods: Whole-grain bread and cereal

Why: Pregnant or trying to conceive? Then you should be aware that whole-grain products fortified with folic acid are key to your baby's oral health. "Folic acid intake is important during pregnancy to prevent fetal clefting of the lip and palate," says Dr. Swan.

Make sure you get 0.4 mg of folic acid per day. (It's also key to proper fetal brain and spinal development.) And wheat germ is rich in vitamin E, another tissue- and wound-healer.

Alternative superfoods: Other foods boasting folate/folic acid include dark-green veggies (broccoli, spinach, peas, Brussels sprouts), corn, dried legumes, oranges and OJ. Prenatal multi-vitamin supplements also include folic acid.

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3. Oral health superfood: Protein-dense lean meats, poultry and fish

Why: To recover faster from dental surgery.

Amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, help wounds heal faster, says Fyshe. A diet high in protein can help you recover better from wisdom-tooth extraction or a dental implant procedure (or any surgery, for that matter).

Many protein-rich foods are also high in zinc, which helps speed healing as well.

Alternative superfoods: Seeds and nuts, eggs, tofu, legumes

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orange juice

4. Oral health superfood: Vitamin C powerhouses like citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwifruit

Why: "Vitamin C contributes to the health of the gum tissue," says Dr. Swan. Vitamin C also speeds the healing process, says Fyshe, making it a boon after dental surgery-or even everyday scrapes and sores like burns from hot food or beverages, and bitten cheeks or tongues.

Alternative superfoods: Broccoli, red peppers

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green peppers

5. Oral health superfoods: Egg yolks, plus oranges, squash and other dark-orange fruits or vegetables

Why: These foods are rich in vitamin A, which "enhances healing and promotes the growth of new skin," says Fyshe, essential for recovering from dental surgery and mouth injury.

Alternative superfoods: Green peppers, kale and other dark-green veggies

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eau plate

6. Oral health super-beverage: Tap water

Why: "A dry mouth, caused by dehydration, can increase risk of infection or sores in your mouth, so it's important to drink plenty of water each day," says Fyshe.

Additionally, by flushing food residue and bacteria from the mouth, water may help prevent bad breath.

Alternative super-beverage: Bottled water-it's less eco-friendly than tap and lacks fluoride, but is better than nothing!

Related:
Why you should care about tooth enamel
5 reasons why oral care matters
What's lurking in your toothbrush?