A dazzling smile can do so much – improve your mood, relieve stress, boost your attractiveness, and even make you look younger. They say we’re born knowing how to smile, but when do we learn how to take care of it? Can we do it naturally?
Oral Bacteria and Plaque Linked to Heart Disease
A study published by Harvard Medical School showed that chewing and brushing your teeth can release bacteria into your bloodstream, especially if you have periodontitis, an erosion of tissue and bone that support the teeth. Researchers identified strains of periodontitis-causing bacteria in the atherosclerotic plaque in the heart’s arteries, as well as arteries elsewhere in the bodies. When this plaque builds up, it can cause heart attacks.
Bacteria from the mouth also has the potential to harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins, causing an immune response that could harm vessel walls or make blood clot more easily. And another possible danger is that oral inflammation can spark inflammation throughout the body – including in the arteries – leading to heart attack and stroke.
Modern Diet Affects Tooth Health
Our diets also affect our oral health, making a huge impact on our teeth.
Recent studies have revealed that changes in our diet – namely the switch from foods in their natural form to processed foods – resulted in negative changes in oral bacteria. In particular, the introduction of processed sugar and flour decreased bacterial diversity and allowed strains that cause bone destruction to flourish. Scientists say that “the modern mouth basically exists in a permanent disease state.”
So is there a more natural way to maintain a healthy, bright smile? Absolutely!
Foods for Healthy, Whiter Teeth
Just as your diet impacts your hair, skin and nails, what you eat and drink impacts your grin, too.
If you’re looking for whiter teeth, avoid smoking, certain foods and beverages. Intensely colored and acidic foods and beverages have greater potential to stain the enamel on your teeth. Key offenders include red wine, black tea, coffee, cola, sports drinks, deeply colored berries and sauces.
Strawberries have both an astringent and vitamin C which may result in whiter teeth. The astringent can help remove surface stains, and vitamin C can reduce plaque buildup.
Crunchy foods are great for clearing away plaque. Foods like celery, apples, carrots, romaine lettuce, and various seeds can act as a natural toothbrush, removing bits of food and bacteria from the mouth and breaking down the plaque between teeth. Apples also have malic acid, an ingredient used in teeth whitening products to dissolve stains.
Calcium-rich foods like low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese can benefit oral health by protecting teeth against periodontal (gum) disease and keeping the jaw bone strong. Try aged cheeses as part of a dessert platter to help prevent cavities. The calcium, phosphorus, and protein in dairy products can protect against acids and strengthen the protective minerals on the surface of teeth.
Oily fish such as wild salmon and mackerel are a natural source of vitamin D – a nutrient necessary for absorbing calcium. Like flax seeds, they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Because gum disease (caused by inflammatory bacteria collecting in pockets) poses the greatest threat to healthy teeth, foods that minimize inflammation can help protect both teeth and gums.
“Just as your diet impacts your skin, hair, and nails, what you eat and drink impacts your grin, too”
Drink lots of water to help wash away food particles and keep saliva levels up. Saliva, which is 95% water, is surprisingly your best protection against tooth decay because it has proteins and minerals that neutralize acids that wear away your enamel. Tea is also a good source of fluoride, a compound that helps keep teeth strong.
Try to limit sticky foods like dried fruits that can stay stuck between teeth and increase the risk of cavities. Avoid prolonged contact with foods that form acid – foods like coffee, chocolate, soda, and meat. Also avoid starchy foods and sweet foods and drinks that are loaded with sugar. The acid-causing bacteria in the mouth love to feed on these sources of simple carbohydrates, leading to enamel erosion and tooth decay.
Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after eating; if that’s not an option chew sugarless gum to increase saliva production, which will in turn decrease acid and help loosen and remove food particles.
Vitamins for Healthy Teeth
Good nutrition and a well-balanced diet can also help you care for your teeth from the inside out.
Make sure you get lots of calcium for healthy gums and teeth. Low or non-fat dairy products, fortified soy, rice, or almond milk, raw almonds, canned fish with bones, and dark, leafy greens such as kale, collards, and spinach are excellent sources.
Phosphorus, magnesium, and beta-carotene are also necessary for optimum oral health. Like calcium and fluoride, phosphorous and magnesium are minerals essential to the formation of tooth enamel. Lean meat, fish, and eggs are good sources of phosphorus, and magnesium can be found in whole grains, dark, leafy greens, bananas, and some legumes including soybeans, peanuts, and lentils.
Vitamin C helps prevent gum inflammation and promotes the healing of bleeding gums. The bioflavonoids found in vitamin C help prevent plaque – a cause of tooth stains and cavities. As an antioxidant, vitamin C also helps in the formation of connective tissue in the gums.
Vitamin A aids healing when gums are inflamed, and it maintains the soft tissue and mucous membranes of the gums. Deficiency can lower resistance to infections, so supplementation can help. Supplements should be taken with meals because fat aids in absorption.
Vitamin D in appropriate amounts can have anti-inflammatory effects on the gums. It aids in the absorption of calcium, which is needed for development and maintenance of healthy teeth. While the easiest way to get vitamin D is through sun exposure, too much sun exposure is bad for the skin so try consuming more low or non-fat dairy products and oily fish.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can be taken as capsules or rubbed on the gums to heal tissue (but make sure it’s a form that’s safe for consumption). Foods high in vitamin E include nuts, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, tomatoes, avocadoes, and wheat germ.
Toothaches, receding gums, and mouth tissue sensitivity can be caused by Vitamin B deficiency. Vitamin B can be found in lean meats, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, and whole grains as well as plant sources like asparagus, avocado, bananas, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, and dark, leafy greens. Raw or unprocessed versions are best, as large amounts of the nutrient can be lost during cooking or processing.
Stop Bad Breath
Bad breath is not just embarrassing; it can be a sign of deeper problems with your oral health. Halitosis, the technical term for bad breath, can be caused by plaque, the nearly invisible film of bacteria that’s constantly forming in your mouth. Another possible source of stink can be decaying food that’s trapped between teeth.
Dental problems such as broken fillings, cavities, and gum disease can make breath unbearable, and illnesses including respiratory or sinus infections, gastrointestinal conditions, and diabetes can also cause an unpleasant odor. In addition, what you eat (like garlic and onions) and habits like drinking or smoking can affect your breath, too.
To prevent bad breath, try using a tongue cleaner or scraper, a plastic or metal oral hygiene device that removes bacterial build-up like plaque, food particles, fungi, and dead cells from the tongue’s surface – the most common causes of bad breath.
Adding a little baking soda to your toothbrush can also get your teeth cleaner and breath fresher. Sprinkle a bit of baking soda in your palm, dip a damp toothbrush into it, and then brush.
Chewing on aromatic spices is another way to sweeten breath. Clove, cardamom, and fennel are common postprandial chews in the Middle East and South Asia, and many of these seeds contain antimicrobial properties that can reduce bad breath. Fresh herbs like parsley, coriander, or mint can also disinfect the mouth and make breath more pleasant while simultaneously giving you a fluoride treatment.
Don’t forget water! Something as simple as a 20-second swish with water can loosen food particles and clean your mouth, and staying hydrated by drinking more water will encourage saliva production.
Natural Toothcare Products
If you’d like to go a more natural route when brushing your teeth, here are a few popular natural toothpastes and mouthwashes to try.
Dr. Ken’s All Natural Maximum Care contains green tea extract to fight bacteria and bad breath, papaya plant extract to whiten teeth, and zinc oxide and citric acid to fight tartar.
Kiss My Face Triple Action Whitening aloe vera gel is fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate-free. It’s made with all natural ingredients, and it’s not tested on animals and contains no animal-derived ingredients.
Tom’s of Maine has a classic toothpaste flavor. The company uses all natural ingredients and discloses all of its ingredients and their sources.
Auremere Ayurvedic Herbal Toothpaste is free of fluoride, gluten, bleaches, artificial sweeteners, dyes, animal-derived ingredients and artificial preservatives. It uses Peelu, a natural tooth whitening fiber, and has a licorice-like flavor.
Dessert Essence Natural Tea Tree Oil Toothpaste contains no harsh abrasives, synthetic sweeteners, or artificial flavors, and is fluoride-free. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties which may help for fresh breath.
Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste uses sea salt and baking soda to reduce tartar buildup and myrrh extract to promote healthy gums.
J/A/S/O/N Sea Fresh toothpaste includes CoQ10 for gum support and active blue-green algae and sea salts for dental health, while J/A/S/O/N Citrus Mint contains orange and peppermint oils as well as grapefruit seed extract, which helps block sugar acids. It is also fluoride- and sulfate-free.
Tom’s of Maine Wicked Fresh Natural Mouthwash contains all natural ingredients including aloe to soothe gums and natural zinc chloride for fresh breath.
J/A/S/O/N Healthy Mouth Cinnamon Clove Mouthwash has natural grapefruit seed and perilla seed extracts to help reduce tartar build-up, and Tea Tree Oil, a well-known antimicrobial and antiseptic agent, to help defend against sugar acids and acid forming bacteria. Aloe vera gel soothes gum irritation and natural clove and cinnamon oils keep breath fresh and clean.
J/A/S/O/N Powersmile Mouthwash uses natural sea salts and grapefruit seed extract for healthy gums and tartar reduction. Aloe vera soothes gums while cinnamon, peppermint oil, anise powder, and clove oil eliminate bad breath.
Weleda Ratanhia Mouthwash Concentrate contains myrhh, a natural disinfectant, organic ratanhia, a powerful astringent that tones gums and reduces bacteria, horse chestnut bark which has antiseptic properties, and eucalyptus and peppermint for minty freshness.
While natural toothcare shouldn’t replace trips to the dentist, they can help make each visit more pleasant and your smile more stunning. Always brush and, more importantly, floss daily. Keep your teeth healthy, and you’ll naturally find yourself showing off that smile!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.