We all know brushing and flossing are key components to good oral hygiene, but did you know the nutrients you get from food can play a significant role in the overall health of your mouth, teeth, and gums? Unfortunately, because many of us don’t get the nutrients we need through food, this leads to nutrient deficiencies which can cause inflammation of the gums and lead to tooth loss.
Tooth decay affects more than 40 percent of children between the ages of two and 19.
Ask any doctor and they’ll tell you the ideal scenario is to get proper nutrients from the foods you and your kids eat. Let’s be real… that’s not always easy to do in our busy, fast-paced lifestyles. And if you have kids that are picky eaters, that can make it even more challenging! There IS hope! Let’s look at some key nutrients, vitamins and foods that will help promote healthy teeth and gums in both kids, and in parents as well.
Vitamins that support healthy teeth and gums
Calcium is an important mineral because it’s considered one of the main building blocks for your teeth and bones. It not only helps to form and support strong bones but it also keeps your child’s tooth enamel layer strong and helps fight off bacteria that causes tooth decay and cavities. If your child isn’t getting enough calcium in their diet, the body will actually take the calcium it needs from the teeth and bones, causing them to weaken. Fortunately, calcium is one of the easier minerals to get from a variety of food sources. The most common type are dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. Just watch for products with too much sugar, like some flavored yogurts, as they can contribute to plaque build up. If you or your child cannot consume dairy, other calcium-rich alternatives are:
- canned salmon or sardines
- leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, mustard greens, or bok choy
- almonds, sunflower seeds, tahini or Brazil nuts
- fortified breads, breakfast cereals and oatmeal
Magnesium is found throughout the body – every cell in your body contains magnesium to function. About 60% of the magnesium occurs in bone, while the rest is in muscles, soft tissues, and fluids. Magnesium helps the body absorb the calcium, it supports healthy blood sugar levels and boosts anti-inflammatory benefits. Basically, it’s a great mineral for overall health and mood. Like Calcium, Magnesium can be easily found in foods like:
- nuts and seeds
- fortified whole grains
- dark leafy vegetables
Most of the phosphorus we have in our bodies is in our teeth! Phosphorus helps the body absorb and use calcium to protect and rebuild tooth enamel. A variety of foods contain phosphorus, so most people get enough of this vitamin in their regular diet. Foods that contain phosphorus are:
- seafood and meat
- eggs and milk
- plant-based foods (soybeans, lentils and dried fruit)
- nuts and seeds
People tend to associate Vitamin A with good eyesight but actually it also contributes to healthy teeth, too! Because it contributes to saliva production, it’s vital for cleaning out bacteria and food particles from your mouth. This saliva production helps keep your mouth at a more neutral, or alkaline pH, after you’ve eaten, which in turn prevents erosion of your child’s tooth enamel. Your child can get their daily dose of vitamin A from foods like:
- egg yolks
- chicken and red meat
- leafy green vegetables (spinach and kale)
- orange-colored fruits and vegetables (oranges, apricots, cantaloupe, carrots and sweet potatoes)
Think of Vitamin D as Calcium’s best friend, they work together to make bones and teeth denser and stronger. Vitamin D works to communicate with the intestines to absorb calcium into the bloodstream, depositing it into your bones, helping the body to build bone density. In this way it contributes to fully developed teeth and protects against gum disease and tooth decay. Best way to get Vitamin D is with just 15 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin (make sure to use sunscreen). When going outside isn’t possible, you can also find Vitamin D in foods like:
- fatty fish (salmon and mackerel)
- red meat
- portobello mushrooms and soybeans
- dairy products (cheese and fortified milk)
- fortified breakfast cereals and breads
Don’t forget about nutrients that support healthy gums! Vitamin C is a great antioxidant that helps strengthen your child’s gums and all the soft tissue in their mouth. It helps the body produce collagen which is great for cell repair and healing. Strong connective tissue in your kids’ gums keeps their teeth in place, and prevents gingivitis and gum disease. Vitamin C can be found in:
- citrus fruits (oranges, kiwi and grapefruit)
- leafy green vegetables
Because fruits that contain vitamin C are very acidic, be sure to rinse your child’s mouth with water after eating them. And watch the sugar! Fruit juices tend to be high in sugar and without the fiber to balance it, be sure to limit your child’s intake and opt for whole fruits and veggies instead.
Like vitamin D, potassium helps boost bone mineral density to maintain their strength and structure. Good sources of potassium are:
- bananas (commonly kid-approved)
- swiss chard
- lima beans
As you can see, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet full of whole fruits and vegetables will give your kids’ body teeth-friendly nutrients to keep those pearly whites healthy and strong. If you’re concerned about your child’s vitamin intake, be sure to talk to your pediatrician before adding vitamin supplements, as they may interact with medications your child may be taking.
Got more questions? We're here to help!
If you need more tips on incorporating kid-friendly, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet, or have any questions about the health of your child’s teeth and gums, please call (214) 618-5200 during our office hours and our team will be happy to help or book an appointment.