Turns out not everything you actually want to eat is bad for you, particularly when it comes to building brighter, whiter teeth. We found five foods typically reserved for "cheat" days that are doctor-approved for a strong, sparkling smile.
Go ahead, order the rib eye. According to the American Dental Association, the phosphorus in steak protects tooth enamel and bone. "Plus, the constant chewing that comes with red meat also keeps the mouth and gums exercising to keep them strong," says Irwin Smigel, D.D.S., P.C., founder and president of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics and creator of the Supersmile whitening system. In fact, a 2013 German study suggests that the more you chew, the stronger and cleaner your teeth.
Despite what you might think, the super dark treat can actually brighten your whites. Tannins (antioxidants found in cacao) prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth while also neutralizing the microorganisms that cause bad breath, says Smigel. Plus, dark chocolate contains the chemical compound theobromine, which can harden tooth enamel. Look for bars that contain at least 70 percent cacao to boost your tannins while keeping sugar to a minimum.
Your next cheese plate can do more for your teeth than deliver a healthy dose of calcium. In a recent study of 68 people who didn't brush their teeth for 48 hours (something we emphatically do not endorse outside of clinical studies), snacking on cheese raised their mouths' pH to nearly perfect, freshly-brushed levels. "When your pH level drops below 5.5, acids can erode and discolor your teeth, causing cavities to develop," Smigel says. His cheese of choice? Cheddar. It's the type participants ate in the study.
It turns out there's one (and only one) time when artificial sweeteners won't wreak havoc on your health: When you're chewing sugar-free gum. All types of gum stimulate saliva production, which literally bathes your teeth in bone-strengthening calcium and phosphate while washing away bacteria (and your leftover lunch) from between your teeth. But brands with xylitol, an alcohol extracted from a variety of plants, fights the bacteria that causes tooth decay. And don't worry about your waistline. While some artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity, one animal study in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition suggests that xylitol consumption may actually prevent weight gain. Try Trident, PÜR Gum, or Supersmile Professional Whitening Gum, which all sweeten with xylitol.
Yes, tea has a ridiculously healthy rap, but not when it comes to teeth. Now, however, it's time to reconsider. One study in The Journal of the American Dental Association found that thanks to high levels of polyphenols, tea battles bacteria, acid, and even glucosyltransferase—an enzyme that enables dental plaque to stick to your teeth like barnacles to a coral reef. What's more, during both the growing and steeping process, tea absorbs fluoride, an acid-fighting mineral that protects against tooth erosion, says Louis Kaufman, D.D.S, a Lumineers cosmetic dentist in Chicago. Fluoride—the foamy stuff dentists puts in your mouth at the end of your cleaning—is plentiful in both rainwater and tap water. When it comes to brewing, skip the filtered water and go straight to the tap to get the most of the mineral, Kaufman says.
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