Cheese is full of protein and calcium – both of which help to strengthen your teeth. Research has also shown that the act of chewing cheese at the end of a meal may help to increase the rate of sugar removal from the mouth – the saliva produced when chewing cheese dilutes the sugar. Cheese board for dessert it is then! But maybe with low fat cheese?
Even though apples are high in sugar like most fruits, they've actually been found to have a positive effect on the health of our teeth. This is because the firmness of an apple and the chewing involved to break it down encourages the production of lots of saliva – which in turn helps to reduce bacteria levels in the mouth.
Although yogurt doesn't necessarily have a direct effect in terms of a reaction in your mouth, eating it can have an overall positive effect on your teeth. Like cheese, yogurt is high in protein and calcium, both of which are important for keeping teeth strong and healthy. Opt for natural yogurt to keep added sugar levels down.
Leafy greens are a good source of fibre, calcium and folic acid, all of which are beneficial for teeth health. Fibre helps to stimulate saliva production, and folic acid has been found to reduce the chances of developing gum disease. Popeye was onto something!
No surprises here – sweets and other treats such as chocolate and biscuits, are loaded with added sugars which are bad for teeth. Exposing teeth to too much sugar can lead to decay, as the reaction of sugar with certain bacteria in our mouth produces acid which damages teeth. It's best to limit the frequency of which you have sugary foods, as the more regularly teeth are exposed to sugar, the higher the chance of decay.
Although fresh fruit is a great source of many important nutrients, dried fruit has a concentrated level of sugar due to the removal of water. This means eating a lot of dried fruit can have the same effect on teeth as eating sweets or chocolate. So ensure you don't have dried fruit too often, and when you do, eat it with another type of food that is more alkaline to balance out the acidity – such as nuts.
Fizzy drinks can be unkind to teeth. It's well known that many are high in added sugars – but it's also down to the carbonation. Carbonated soft drinks often contain phosphoric and citric acid which can damage the enamel on teeth and weaken them. This is true of both sugar free and sugary beverages, so ensure you limit your consumption of diet drinks as well as high sugar ones. Even sparkling water can have a negative effect on teeth as it's more acidic than still water – but these effects are small, and you would have to drink a lot of sparkling water to cause any real concern.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.