Snacks Your Teeth Will Love!
I know we all crave a bag of chips or a candy bar now and then, but our teeth actually crave other things to bite into….Snacks your teeth will love are ones that help protect our enamel from decay while still satisfying an empty belly.
Tooth decay is caused when starchy foods stick to our teeth and our oral bacteria break them down releasing small amounts of acids. The acids are actually what dissolve enamel and gradually work their way deeper through the tooth surface. Any carbohydrate (it doesn’t even have to be sweet!), like crackers, can cause decay if allowed to “stick around.” How often we eat starchy foods is more significant than how much we eat at a given time. For instance, 1 chocolate chip cookie every hour throughout the day is much worse for our teeth than 10 cookies all at once. It’s our own saliva that can help rescue our enamel. Saliva is loaded with calcium and phosphorus that help rebuild enamel and bicarbonate that helps return our mouth to its neutral pH level.
So then, can we eat anything between meals? Yes!
Cheese, plain yogurt and nuts
Especially hard cheeses like cheddar or string cheese. These yummy foods are rich in protein and fats for a satisfying snack, as well as those good minerals calcium and phosphorus that can help strengthen our teeth. Maybe the French who typically finish a meal with a cheese plate are onto something….. Also, any plain or lightly salted nuts are a fine choice and complement any good cheese plate.
Veggies and hard fruits
Foods that are naturally crunchy like carrot, celery sticks, and apples can physically “brush” our teeth while we chew them up, removing plaque. Plain peanut butter (without any added sugar) or hummus make great dips. Even though there’s some sugar in apples they’re mostly fiber and water (and vitamins!) making them a good choice if eaten raw.
Kale and spinach are packed with vitamins and minerals including calcium and vitamin C, making them an excellent choice for both our enamel and our gums. Throw in a handful of spinach in your next smoothie, or try making kale chips. I included my favorite kale chip recipe below.
Another good tip is to allow some time for your mouth to return to its neutral pH level after eating before you brush your teeth. About 30 minutes after a meal or snack is enough time for your saliva to neutralize and remineralize enamel. Otherwise, brushing your teeth while it’s still in an acidic state can actually damage enamel.
Crunchy Kale Chips with Lemon-Yogurt Dip:
1 lb green curly kale, stems and large inner ribs removed, torn into large pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and ground pepper
1 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, toss the kale with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil and half the garlic. Rub the oil into each leaf to fully coat them.
Spread the kale out on baking sheets and roast for about 15 minutes or until crisp; shift the pans around halfway through for an even bake. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a large platter or bowl
In a small bowl whisk the yogurt with the lemon zest and juice and the remaining garlic and olive oil until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
About the Author:
Dr. Laura Ellefson graduated from Bates University with a degree in Biology and earned her dental degree from Tufts University of Dental Medicine in 2012. She practices general dentistry in Santa Rosa, CA.