The hardest substance in your body, tooth enamel plays a key role in protecting your teeth. It consists chiefly of calcium phosphate, a rock-hard mineral, and covers the outer layer of the teeth to provide a barrier that safeguards the inner layers, including dentin, from the effects of plaque and acids. Enamel also protects your teeth in daily functions such as biting and chewing, and insulates the teeth against sensitivity when you eat hot or cold foods.
Enamel can discolor when a build-up of plaque and tartar around the gum line and on the teeth causes staining and the onset of decay, which can in itself result in brown spots forming on your teeth. If enamel, which is semi-translucent, becomes worn down, it allows the yellow shade of dentin to shine through, and enamel cannot regenerate because it has no living cells.
Drinking water between glasses of wine or when eating foods with a dark pigment will help to prevent staining. Stick to still water: the bubbles in sparkling water can erode tooth enamel.
You can also help to protect your enamel by avoiding sugary or acidic foods and drinks, which interact with the bacteria in your mouth to produce lactic acid, which attacks enamel. Very hard foods, like some candies, can also chip or crack enamel.
However, some foods will help to protect enamel, particularly those containing calcium, which counters acids in the mouth and also strengthens teeth and bones. Here’s a list of some of the foods that are considered to be beneficial in helping to prevent discoloring of tooth enamel…
Dairy products including milk, yogurt and cheese are low in acidity but high in calcium, which helps to prevent tooth decay by strengthening enamel. Studies have shown that children who eat yogurt regularly suffer less tooth decay than children who don’t eat yogurt. It’s thought that the proteins in yogurt may bind to teeth to safeguard them against attack by cavity-causing acids. Hard cheeses are best for whitening, because they help remove food particles, too.
Tip: Don’t go overboard with your milk consumption: milk is high in sugars. Choose low-fat dairy products to keep the calories down.
Vegetables such as celery and carrots act as natural stain removers on your teeth by scraping away food particles and plaque that build up along the gum line between your teeth. Crunchy foods are also high in fiber, so they take longer to chew, which increases saliva – crucial in washing away bacteria in the mouth.
Tip: Although apples fit in the crunchy category, the acid in the fruit can damage enamel, so rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash shortly after eating one.
Tart fruits such as oranges and pineapples kick your salivary glands into overdrive to help fight microbes in the mouth. However, like apples, these fruits have a high acid content that could attack tooth enamel, so don’t overdo it, and always rinse after eating them.
Broccoli is high in fiber, which helps to reduce inflammation in your mouth, and eating raw broccoli can help to clean and polish your teeth. The iron that broccoli contains will also protect your teeth against bacteria.
Munching raisins stimulates saliva to help prevent stains, cavities and plaque by neutralizing acids created by other foods and bacteria in your mouth.
Tip: Adding raisins to bran cereal will help to clean the mouth faster than the same cereal without raisins.
Vegetables like kale and spinach are packed with vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, which increases the production of red blood cells and lessens the risk of tooth decay and gum infection. Eating leafy greens also produces more saliva, which, as we’ve already seen, is good for your gums.
They won’t work wonders for your breath, but onions neutralize germs in the mouth, targeting the most common types of bacteria that cause cavities.
Tip: Try onions in salads, sandwiches, stir fires, soups, stews and burgers.
The anti-bacterial compound lentinan, which is found in shiitake mushrooms, battles against the microbes that produce plaque.
Tip: Sauté shiitake mushrooms as a side to a main course or add them to your favorite vegetable dishes.
Peppers of all colours contain high levels of anti-inflammatory vitamin C, which helps to keep tooth decay at bay.
Tip: Include peppers in salads.
Green tea contains anti-oxidants called catechins, which are believed to lessen the risk of gum inflammation.
Seeds and Nuts
The abrasive texture of sunflower seeds and nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews can remove stains on the surface of teeth.
The Importance of Getting the Right Advice
Advice about teeth whitening by natural means and which foods are good for oral health abounds across the internet, some of it contradictory. For instance, strawberries are feted in some quarters as being a natural teeth whitener because the malic acid they contain acts as an astringent to remove tooth discoloration, but others assert that this acid will damage enamel.
As the American Dental Association (ADA) points out, just because a tooth whitening method is natural, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. In fact, DIY whitening can do more harm than good to your teeth.
The best way to establish which foods are tooth-friendly – and those to avoid – is to ask your dentist. If you have tooth discoloration, they will also be able to tell you whether the underlying cause is a cavity, and whether professional teeth whitening could be the solution to your problems.
Regular dental check-ups will help to keep your tooth enamel – and the rest of your mouth – in good condition. The American Dental Association says that on average people should see their dentist every six months for an evaluation and professional cleaning and polishing, which will get rid of most surface stains on your teeth and ensure they stay healthy.