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It’s no secret that flossing, brushing your teeth, and routine trips to the dentist are the best way to get rid of plaque buildup and tartar — which will ultimately help prevent cavities and gum disease — but did you know that the foods we eat also have a significant impact on our dental health? A healthy diet is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy smile. While certain foods are notorious for causing permanent damage to our teeth, a number of foods do just the opposite. Here’s a list of foods that will make you and your dentist smile: Apples When it comes to our oral health, apples are a triple threat. First, the acidity in an apple is known to eliminate the harmful bacteria that fosters bad breath. Second, the apples’ fibrous content acts as a natural toothbrush and scrapes plaque off your teeth. Third, the workout your mouth gets while eating an apple is great for saliva production, which is essential for keeping your mouth moist and comfortable. Strawberries While you might not believe it at first, strawberries are a natural teeth whitener. Strawberries contain malic acid, which breaks down leftover particles on your teeth and removes stains. To get a whiter smile, crush or puree one strawberry and combine it with a ½ teaspoon of baking soda. Apply the mixture to your teeth and leave it for about five minutes. The malic acid from the strawberry will break down the stains and the baking soda will contribute to that whiter smile. However, dentists recommend that you only do this once every seven days, as overuse will lead to a breakdown of your tooth enamel. Watermelon Without enough vitamin C, the connective tissues of your gums will weaken, causing your teeth to become loose, your gums to bleed, and the chance you’ll get gum disease will significantly increase. In extreme cases, the gums will be purple in color and your teeth may fall out due to weak dentin. Watermelon is a great source of vitamin C and will keep your mouth in great shape. Cucumbers Cucumbers are 96 percent water, which might not put them at the top of the most nutrient-rich foods. However, cucumbers are filled with soluble fiber, which massages your teeth and gums to help promote that healthy smile. Avocados A study done by Ohio State University found that nutrients taken from a Hass avocado may help prevent oral cancer. Phytochemicals extracted from the avocados target multiple signaling pathways and will increase the amount of reactive oxygen within the cells. Researchers believe that phytochemicals can stop the growth of precancerous cells or kill precancerous cells without affecting our normal cells. Broccoli Whether you love or hate this green vegetable, there’s no denying it is packed full of essential nutrients. Broccoli is packed with vitamins A, B, C, and E, phosphorous, beta-carotene, and other powerful antioxidants. Broccoli also contains zinc, an important trace mineral in the body. Zinc is naturally found in saliva and is known for its antibacterial properties. A diet with the proper amount of zinc can help you fight the growth of plaque and encourage a healthy mouth. Carrots Carrots are chock-full of fiber and scrub the plaque off your teeth as you eat. Much like apples, eating carrots is notorious for stimulating saliva production, which our mouths need to neutralize acids. This orange vegetable is also packed with vitamin A, which is known to help maintain healthy mucous membranes which coat your gums and cheeks. Celery The more crunchy a vegetable is, the better it is for your teeth. Similar to apples and carrots, celery acts as a natural toothbrush. As you bite and chew on the leafstalk, you will dislodge other food particles. And since celery takes a bit more work to eat your mouth will produce plenty of bacteria-fighting saliva. Spinach The vitamin B-9 found in spinach is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in cell growth and repair. Naturally found in plant foods as folate and in supplements as folic acid, this nutrient is known to help make your gums more resilient to plaque and anaerobic bacteria, which are two of the leading causes for gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath. Chicken Getting enough collagen in your diet can help prevent your gums from receding. Gum recession is where your gum tissue surrounding your teeth will start to pull back, exposing more of your tooth (in extreme cases the tooth’s root). When your gums recede, gaps will starts to form between the gum and the tooth, which then allows bacteria to build up. Symptoms of receding gums will be tooth sensitivity, inflammation, and tooth decay. Chicken — and chicken skin — are both packed with collagen, making it an excellent choice to combat gum disease. Red meat A 2015 study conducted by the University of Michigan and Newcastle University found that Arginine, a common amino acid found in red meat and poultry, may be able to help people avoid cavities and gum disease. As bacteria aggregates on the surface of your teeth, it forms a biofilm. Biofilm or dental plaque are the culprits behind cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Salmon Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium — if you’re not getting enough, you’re at risk for rickets, osteoporosis, and even periodontal disease. One study found, “a significant association between periodontal health and the intake of vitamin D.” Researchers hypothesized that “Vitamin D may be beneficial for oral health, not only for its direct effect on bone metabolism but also due to its ability to function as an anti-inflammatory agent and stimulate the production of anti-microbial peptides.” Cheese While cheese is exceptionally high in calcium and promotes strong teeth, the oral health benefits don’t stop there. Cheese is known to quickly raise the pH level in your mouth after eating sugary foods and can help prevent cavities. It takes some effort to eat cheese and the increased amount of chewing produces saliva — which neutralizes acidity and helps to restore your mouth to a balanced pH level. Additionally, dairy products contain called casein. When casein is combined with the calcium and phosphate compounds, the protein creates a film that covers the enamel and helps reduce the risk of tooth decay. Garlic Good for your teeth, bad for your breath. Allicin is responsible for garlic’s antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, but it’s also the reason you have terrible garlic breath. Studies have shown that Allicin can help prevent periodontitis (gum disease) by controlling the bad bacteria and allowing good bacteria to prosper. Yogurt It’s been said that eating unsweetened yogurt can help reduce the level of hydrogen sulfide (gas-emitting bacteria) in your mouth. One study had 24 volunteers eat three ounces of yogurt, twice daily for six weeks. At the end of the study, researchers found that the odiferous compounds (mainly hydrogen sulfide), had decreased for 80 percent of the participants. The volunteers also had significantly lower levels of plaque and gingivitis. While it’s tempting to choose sugary foods and beverages, a well-balanced diet is essential to acquiring and maintaining a healthy, beautiful smile. Try to avoid things that are sugary (candy, dried fruit, soda, etc.), acidic (pastries, ice cream, soda, etc.), and that will dry out your mouth (caffeine, alcohol, crackers, chips, and bread); as these will only make it easier for bacteria to make itself at home in your mouth. Instead, incorporate some calcium rich-foods, foods with a high alkaline level, and high fiber fruits. You can even pop in some sugarless gum if you’d like. Along with a healthy diet, be sure to practice good oral hygiene: brush your teeth at least twice a day, use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, floss at least once a day, use a mouth rinse, and visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.