If you or your children’s diet is dairy-free, you can still build strong and healthy bones and teeth – eat fresh whole foods as part of a balanced diet and be wary of foods that slow calcium absorption.
The main task of dental health and hygiene is to prevent cavities. There are three main ways to prevent this happening: keep your mouth clean, reduce acid-causing foods in your diet and boost your intake of healthy foods that help to build strong teeth.
Keeping your mouth clean
We all know that we should brush our teeth at least twice a day, but here are some extra tips:
- Floss once a day. You can floss your children’s teeth from the time they have two touching teeth. At around 8 or 9, they can begin flossing themselves.
- A daily dose of probiotic live natural yoghurt can help banish bad breath. It helps to reduce levels of hydrogen sulfide in the mouth which is a big cause of bad breath. Levels of plaque and gingivitis can also be reduced by regular yoghurt consumption.
- Clean your tongue too. Toxins and bacteria accumulate on the tongue.
- It is also a good idea to use a natural anti-bacterial mouthwash for extra protection. Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.
Reduce acid-causing foods
Unremoved food particles and sugar by-products produce lactic acid, which dissolves calcium in the protective enamel layer of the teeth. Milk also produces a significant amount of lactic acid, which is the reason why it is not recommended to put a baby to sleep with a bottle of milk. Another thing that creates excess acid in the mouth is chewable vitamin C tablets. If you want to take these, then dissolve them in water first rather than chewing them. Raw fruits and vegetables contain minerals that help to keep the saliva from becoming too acidic, and they also help to keep the body in an alkaline state which is the ideal state for strong teeth and general well-being. Acidic saliva and an acidic state in the body can both cause calcium and magnesium to be leached from teeth.
Nutrients that build strong teeth
Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to growing great teeth than just eating dairy products. This is great news for those children and adults with allergies or intolerances to cow’s milk. It is also important to know that there are a number of dietary factors that can negatively affect the absorption of required nutrients.
The top nutrients needed for strong, healthy teeth and bones are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D. Calcium is the primary mineral in teeth, but it needs to be teamed with magnesium to build hard enamel that resists decay. Phosphorus is necessary largely because it bonds itself to other minerals and in doing so, allows their incorporation into body structures. In other words, phosphorus is needed for the body to utilise calcium and magnesium to build teeth. Vitamin D is also necessary to regulate the absorption of calcium, plus it is anti-inflammatory and helps prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.
Calcium, magnesium and phosphorus intake needs to be kept balanced (that is, consume about the same amount of each) as excessive or insufficient amounts of one will affect the absorption of the others. Milk, while high in calcium and phosphorus, is low in magnesium, and excessive intakes of dairy products without a balancing high intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as whole grains and leafy green vegetables, could result in soft tooth enamel and a higher incidence of dental caries.
Eating a lot of sugar also means that calcium isn’t absorbed as well as it could be. Soft drinks are particularly bad because, in addition to being very high in sugar, they also contain large amounts of phosphorus which, in excess, can prevent calcium and magnesium uptake. Other foods which lead to the loss of calcium by the body are alcohol, coffee, processed foods, excess salt and white flour (because it is low in magnesium).
What to eat for great teeth
Particularly good foods to include in your diet include: live natural yoghurt, fish and seafood, eggs, chicken, turkey, dark green leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses, apples, broccoli, cabbage, carob, goat’s milk, oats (whole grain), brown rice, sesame seeds, tahini, lima beans, lentils, chickpeas, alfalfa (sprouts), tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), tempeh, miso, cayenne, chamomile, fenugreek, flaxseed, lemongrass, nettle (cook lightly), parsley and paprika.
Remember to avoid: excess meat, fat, salt, processed food, white flour, coffee, alcohol, tea, sugar and soft drinks.
So, have a picnic in the midday sun (for a dose of vitamin D) and enjoy some great teeth food. Try a brown rice salad with cheese cubes or tahini dressing; broccoli, herb and vegetable frittata; homemade fish cakes with fresh coriander; or pasta tossed with homemade pesto. Top it all off with a seasonal fresh fruit salad, and smile.
Janine Lattimore is a researcher, writer and speaker with a passion for natural health and beauty.