Eat Right for a Winning Smile
Watching what you eat and drink, as well as good oral hygiene is important in keeping your teeth looking good and making sure you have a winning smile! Follow the advice below to keep your pearly whites white!
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
When it comes to laying the foundations for healthy teeth, calcium and vitamin D are a nutrient double-act that's hard to beat! Calcium provides the foundation for strong, healthy teeth while vitamin D makes sure our body absorbs calcium from the food we eat.
- We find calcium in dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yoghurt. Foods made from milk, such as milk puddings and custard, are good sources of calcium too.
- Low-fat options contain just as much calcium as full-fat products and are suitable from 2 years of age.
- Most age groups need at least 3 portions of calcium-rich foods each day. From 9 – 18 years, 5 servings are needed as bodies are growing and developing quickly.
- If you dislike dairy food or are vegan, getting enough calcium can be challenging. Be sure to choose milk alternatives with calcium added, such as soya products or nut milks. The bones of tinned fish, oranges, spinach, and other dark green veg, cheese pizza, and baked beans also contain calcium, while certain breakfast cereals have added calcium too. Ask your doctor or dietitian whether you need to take a calcium supplement.
- Vitamin D is made by the action of the sunlight on our skin. During the dark winter months (October-March) our bodies do not get the vitamin D they need, meaning many Irish people have low vitamin D stores.
- Eating oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring twice a week will help provide the vitamin D we need. Fortified milk and cereals will also help towards your daily dose of vitamin D.
- If you are worried that you are not getting enough vitamin D, talk to your doctor or dietitian about taking a daily supplement of vitamin D.
Check out our advice on bone health in Nutrition and You supported by the National Dairy Council to get lots more information about calcium and vitamin D.
KEEPING YOUR TEETH HEALTHY
Dental problems are caused by either tooth erosion or tooth decay. Tooth erosion is caused by having acidic foods or drinks. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth act on the sugars in our food to produce acid. This acid attacks our teeth. Each time we eat or drink, acid levels in the mouth rise, increasing the risk of damage to teeth. In other words, constant snacking or 'grazing' on food throughout the day can be damaging. To minimise dental problems, it is best to limit these 'acid attacks' to about 6 times per day.
- Water is a tooth-friendly drink. If you need a drink during the night, water is the best option.
- Fluoride is added to Irish drinking water as it helps to form hard, resistant tooth enamel, so tap water can help protect teeth.
- Milk and sugar-free squashes are kind to your teeth too.
Even though fruit juice is a great source of vitamin C, it is acidic and contains natural sugars which can damage your teeth.
- To protect teeth, pure fruit juices should be diluted with water and only taken with meals. For young children dilute at least 5 parts water to one part juice. Some fruit drinks are not pure juice and may have added sugar – always read the label.
- Fizzy drinks contain a lot of sugar and acid, which are damaging to teeth.
- Diet minerals are also acidic and are not recommended.
- Drinking fizzy drinks through a straw can help reduce tooth-damaging effects by directing the drink to the back of the mouth, limiting the interaction between the acidic drink and the teeth.
Food and Drinks that Stain
- Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, sports drinks, and wine (white and red) can cause staining because of their acidity.
- For a whiter smile, limit your intake of these drinks. Some foods like pasta sauces, curry, and balsamic vinegar can also stain. Including salad, fruit, or vegetables in the meal will help to limit staining.
- Drink water with your meal and finish with milk or hard cheese to neutralise the acid.
- Good dental health begins at a very early age and simple steps taken early on can help keep our teeth healthy.
- Mother’s milk directly from the breast is the best way to feed a baby.
- For bottle-fed infants, feeding should finish before being put to bed. They should not be put to bed with a bottle or with a bottle left for self-feeding when awake.
- Follow-on milk and toddler milks are high in added sugar and are not recommended. Full-fat cow's milk can be taken from 12 months. Low-fat cow's milk is safe from 2 years of age.
- Infants and young children do not need sweets. It is important to look after the ‘milk’ teeth, as well as permanent teeth.
- Dummies and soothers should never be dipped in sugar, honey, or jam. Good practice early on makes healthy habits easier later in life!
- Good snacks for children include vegetable sticks, milk, plain yogurt, cheese, plain popcorn, breads, and whole-grain breakfast cereals.
- Keep sweet treats to meal times to reduce “acid attacks” during the day.
- Sugary foods that dissolve slowly e.g. lollipops and hard-boiled sweets, bathe teeth in sugar for longer and increase the risk of tooth erosion and decay.
- As soon as teeth start to appear get the habit of rubbing teeth gently with a clean piece of cloth or a small soft toothbrush.
- Before the age of two, teeth should be cleaned using water only.
- After two years, teeth should be brushed at least once a day, using a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
- Until the age of seven, brushing should be carried out or supervised by an adult.
Visit your dentist regularly to keep your teeth healthy. Check out www.dentalhealth.ie for more information on keeping teeth healthy!
Updated by Elaine Murray, MINDI, May 2016
Review date: April 2019
© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
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