By the editors of
Which foods are best for my pearly whites?
Crunchy foods, including apples, celery, and carrots, act like little toothbrushes when you chew them, and they actually help scrub away stubborn stains over time. The cleansing effect on your teeth may be noticeable—if ever so slightly—especially if you’re a coffee drinker who wasn’t eating apples every day to begin with. “The mildly acidic nature and astringent quality of apples, combined with their rough, fiber-rich flesh, makes them the ideal food for cleansing and brightening teeth,” explains Jeff Golub-Evans, DDS, founding president of the New York Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Also try swapping your morning java for tea. Black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidant plant compounds that prevent plaque from adhering to your teeth and help reduce your chances of developing cavities and gum disease. “Tea also has potential for reducing bad breath because it inhibits the growth of the bacteria that cause the odor,” explains Christine D. Wu, PhD, associate dean for research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, who has conducted several studies on tea and oral health and dental care. Many teas also contain fluoride (from the leaves and the water it’s steeped in), which helps protect tooth enamel from decay and promotes healthy teeth.
Are there any foods that I should avoid to keep my teeth healthy?
A handful of potato chips or even a whole wheat roll can be just as damaging to your teeth and gums as a chocolate chip cookie. All carbohydrates break down into simple sugars, which are ultimately converted by bacteria in the mouth into plaque, a sticky residue that is the primary cause of gum disease and cavities. Carb-based foods such as breads and crackers tend to have “a chewy, adhesive texture,” making it easier for them to get caught between teeth or under the gum line, where bacteria can then accumulate, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Have carbs at mealtimes rather than as a snack: When you eat a larger amount of food, you produce more saliva, which helps wash food particles away.
How can I whiten my smile?
A brighter smile makes people perceive you as younger, according to an American Academy of Dentistry study. So take advantage of these affordable innovations.
With Snug-Fitting Bleach Trays: Wear the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide in place to boost lightening; wear 60 minutes a day for 2 weeks.
Can whitening hurt my teeth?
Although some people worry that professional teeth whitening will damage their enamel, research suggests that their fears are unfounded. Studies have shown that it’s safe to undergo a course of bleaching—2 weeks with a drugstore method or a dentist-prescribed night guard, or a single in-office power-bleaching session—once or twice a year. But dentists are less confident about the safety of using the chemicals as simply another part of the morning shower-shave-brush grooming routine. In addition to tooth sensitivity, dentists report seeing side effects that include gum irritation, bluish enamel, uneven whiteness, and—if the chemical manages to seep into a cracked tooth or an unfilled cavity—painful internal damage that can lead to a root canal. Except for that last one, side effects of teeth whitening products usually clear up within a couple of weeks, provided you stop using the chemicals.