The role of nutrition in maintaining a healthy smile

by | May 3, 2023

We always knew one thing about tooth decay since childhood. Sugar is bad for teeth. Just how bad? The World Health Organisation recommends only a 10% daily calorie intake of sugar while urging an even lower 5%. A paper published by Public Health Nutrition says sugar should not make up more than 3% of our daily energy intake.

But we are not here to retell the story of the sugar culprit. We want to talk about all that is good for your dental health.

Brushing and flossing keep plaque and bacteria at bay, but you need a balanced diet with adequate nutrients to sustain your oral health.

The connection between diet and dental health

The association between oral health and diet are thoroughly research-backed. Without proper nutrition, you are at risk of developing dental caries, periodontal diseases, diseases of the oral mucosa, and infectious diseases. In return, compromised oral health can affect food choices and negatively impact food intake leading to suboptimal nutritional status, which can be detrimental to your overall health.

A healthy mouth and well-functioning teeth are paramount at all stages of life. They are vital for proper breathing, speaking, and eating. In a healthy mouth, tissues are moist, odour-free, and pain-free. Gingiva is firm, not red or swollen, and does not bleed when brushed or flossed. There are no signs of lumps, ulcers, or unusual colour on or under the tongue, cheeks, or gums. Teeth are firmly in place and do not hurt when chewing or brushing. A healthy mouth does not have untreated decay, which can cause foul breath or infection.

Essential nutrients – Nutrient-rich foods are crucial for healthy teeth and enamel. Calcium and phosphorus play a significant role in the formation and mineralisation of tooth enamel, making it strong and resistant to decay. Calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, other dairies, leafy greens, calcium-fortified tofu, and almonds can help protect and rebuild the enamel. Protein-rich foods like meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, vegetables, and grains are good sources of phosphorus.

Saliva production – Proper nutrition influences saliva production essential to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Saliva helps wash away bacteria and food particles, neutralise acids, and provide minerals and enzymes that protect and repair tooth enamel. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich food stimulates saliva flow, promoting a healthier oral environment.

Immune system support – Proper nutrition supports a strong immune system, which plays a major role in fighting oral infections and maintaining oral health. Nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids support immune function, helping to prevent and control gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health issues.

Healthy gums – gum health is related to the jaw bone, connective tissues, and ligaments in the mouth. A diet that includes vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids helps maintain gum health. Deficiencies in these essential nutrients can lead to gum problems, including bleeding gums and a higher risk of periodontal disease.

What you should eat for healthy teeth and gums

Fruits and vegetables – These are high in water and fibre, and help clean teeth and stimulate saliva. Saliva secretion is essential to wash away bacteria and food particles from teeth. It neutralises acid and protects teeth from decay. They also contain antioxidants that help protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and bacterial infection,

Leafy greens support a healthier oral microbiome. Prebiotics in these produces more nitrite-reducing healthy bacteria. Darker leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard, and arugula, are high in minerals required for remineralisation to strengthen the tooth structure.

Eating raw apples, carrots, and celery will also clean plaque from teeth. Their textures are ideal for healthy snacking.

Vitamins and minerals – Essential for good oral health, nutrient-rich foods contain key vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C promotes healthy gingiva & healing, Vitamin A helps rebuild tooth enamel, Vitamin K2 gives you strong teeth, and Vitamin D works synergistically with vitamins A and K2 to deliver calcium to the teeth.

Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, berries, and kale. You can find Vitamin A in orange-coloured fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers, plus fish and egg yolks. You can get Vitamin D from oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring. Vitamin D-fortified foods like milk and breakfast cereals are also good sources.

Calcium is one of the most important minerals that help form and maintain strong bones and teeth. Dairy is a good source of calcium, while canned salmon and sardines, broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy or Chinese cabbage, almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and tahini also provide good amounts of calcium.

Phosphorus helps the body absorb calcium to strengthen teeth by protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel. Meat, milk, whole grains, fish, eggs, and other protein-rich foods contain phosphorus.

Omega-3 fatty acids – these nutrients play a principal role in keeping your gums healthy by regulating inflammation in the gum tissues. Some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, and soybean.

Fluoridated water – Helps keep your mouth clean and fight dry mouth. Fluoride is the prime mineral recognised for preventing tooth decay and building strong teeth. Drinking water containing fluoride is one of the easiest ways to benefit from this mineral. Fluoride is also naturally found in various foods and drinks, including brewed black tea and coffee, canned shellfish, oatmeal, raisins, and potatoes.

Food and beverages to avoid

Sugar and starch cause the most damage to our teeth. Low consumption of sugary and starchy foods helps maintain healthy teeth.

Crisps – these snack favourites are full of starch. Starch gets stuck on and between teeth and breaks down into sugar. Sugar feeds the bacteria in the plaque. Plaque bacteria use sugar to make acid that attacks tooth enamel. This acid release can last up to 20 minutes after eating.

Fizzy drinks – Carbonated or fizzy drinks, even diet drinks, cause dental erosion. Many soft drinks rank between 2 and 3 on the pH scale, which is highly acidic. Some diet fizzy drinks contain phosphoric and citric acid. The acidity of this level can contribute to decay, gum inflammation, and a general dysbiosis of the oral microbiome. Darker coloured fizzy drinks can also lead to staining and yellowing of teeth. Sweetened soft drinks commonly contain 10 teaspoons of sugar or more, which is above the maximum daily sugar intake recommendation for adults!

Dried fruit – these have no water and have low pH. When chewed, they form a similar consistency to sticky caramel that feeds sugar to the oral microbiome, leading to cavities.

Fruit juice – fruit juice concentrates contain citric acid that leads to the demineralisation of the enamel. It’s better to eat fruit than juice them.

Alcohol – excessive alcohol consumption can lead to dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. It can also irritate the soft tissues in the mouth. Limit your alcohol intake and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Acidic Foods – foods like pickles, tomato, and vinegar-based dressings can erode tooth enamel over time. Consume acidic foods in moderation and rinse your mouth with water. afterwards.


Your eating habits can put your pearly whites at risk. While you may safeguard your teeth with oral hygiene, you should also reinforce protection with vitamins and minerals. Proper nutrition ensures your body gets the essential nutrients to develop and maintain good oral health. Increasing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin D, antioxidants, plant nitrates, and fibre in your diet will improve your dental and oral health. What foods will you start eating more for healthy teeth?