Summertime means cool, refreshing treats like ice cream sundaes piled high with cherries and bananas or sorbet slushies that are frothy and spilling off the sides of your glass. Heaven! But too much of that sugary goodness can do some damage to your teeth and gums. My husband Brian has had a lot of problems with his teeth this year. Let’s just say the words “root canal” were mentioned at one point. Blessedly, he didn’t have to go that route. Growing up, I remember my mother would frequently visit the dentist because of sore gums. Red, bleeding, or inflamed gums is usually a telltale sign of gingivitis and periodontitis, which can be associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poor wound healing. Gingivitis is caused by plaque forming on the teeth that then irritates the gums. The longer the plaque sits, the more irritated the gums become. The gums can start bleeding even with gentle brushing. Periodontitis occurs when the untreated gingivitis eventually loosens the tooth from the gums and results in tooth loss. Treatment of periodontitis includes good oral hygiene and professional dental care. I repeat, professional dental care. So if you are suffering from these conditions or other oral care issues, don’t be a hero and sit there with your teeth jacked up–seek out a physician pronto.
According to the World Health Organization, oral disease are the fourth most expensive disease to treat. Risk factors to oral diseases include: smoking, alcohol, behaviors that cause injuries, stress, diet, and dirt (hygiene). Natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin (turmeric) and antimicrobials like tea tree oil can help in treating some periodontal issues. But prevention is key. Start by limiting your consumption of sugars and boosting your intake of fruits and veggies. Okay preach session over.
Other foods I like to add to my arsenal to keep tooth decay at bay are:
Watercress is kind of new to my menu. I saw it at the market and decided what the hell, let’s do it. And I’m glad I did. Watercress has a sharp undertone that could easily replace boring lettuce in any sandwich or bring a peppery note to soups and pasta. This Brassicaceae veggie is usually found in cool, running water along the banks of rivers, ditches, and streams (so wash it well because it can have a little dirt y’all). Like its close relatives broccoli and cauliflower, watercress is high in similar nutrients such as vitamins C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, and iodine. It is also rich in the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. Most importantly, watercress is full of isothiocyanates, one of the products of glucosinolates, plant compounds that are known for their cancer-fighting properties. Isothiocyanates activate detoxification enzymes and suppress cancer-promoting enzymes in the body. Some studies have shown that isothiocyanates have reduced the risk of lung cancer and have prevented tumors in other parts of the body such as the liver, pancreas, colon, bladder, and mammary gland (breast). What’s more, it has been reported that watercress supplementation reduced DNA damage that may lead to elevated cancer risk and increased antioxidant concentration of lutein and beta-carotene in adults. In addition, some animal studies suggest that watercress extract may promote the healing of mouth lesions. I like to toss watercress on my pasta for an extra kick of flavor.
By now, you guys have guessed that Mama likes her tea 😉. So I am always looking for any excuse whatsoever to try a new herbal blend. But tulsi is special guys. This adaptogen herb is an antioxidant that contains vitamin A and C, calcium, zinc, and iron. Some animal studies indicate that tulsi may lower blood sugar levels, may promote the healing of keloid and hypertropic scars, and has cardioprotective and gastroprotective effects. Please note that tulsi has also shown antifertility effects as well, so if you have interests in those areas, do abstain. And some evidence suggests that tulsi may exhibit antimicrobial activity against certain types of periodontal bacteria that may cause dental caries. Every now and then, I like to start my morning off with a cup of tulsi to help ease me right into the rigors of the day.
Sage is usually one of my favorite winter spices. I like to add it to my stuffing and really creamy soups like butternut squash or pumpkin. Sage is a strong antioxidant herb that is similar in composition to rosemary because it contains phenolic compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid. But sage drop kicks rosemary in the antioxidant department because it has additional flavonoids and phenolic acids like sagecoumarin that show moderate antioxidant activity. Some studies have shown that sage extract has anti-inflammatory effects that promote the healing of gingivitis.
Who doesn’t love strawberries? Strawberries are probably the only berry I remember having as a child because every member of my family loved it compared to other types of berries. I think that strawberry was my favorite flavor too but that might be because I wasn’t used to other flavors. Yep, poor deprived me but I will save that for another time 😊. Anywho, strawberries are a mega star when it comes to vitamin C content and it is also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, A, and E. It contains minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. And while vitamin C deficiency doesn’t cause oral conditions like periodontitis, lack of this nutrient can negatively affect collagen synthesis and wound healing needed to avoid such conditions. For example, regeneration of collagen allows the tooth to remain attached to the gums. So pile on those strawberries! I like to have my berries as the main feature of my breakfast bowl.
I cannot describe in words my love of green tea. It is my go-to boo, my number one stunner, just everything. #mamalovestea Do not mess with me and my green tea. I have written about the benefits of green tea here. Here’s a short recap: green tea is rich in antioxidants such as catechins, which are polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimutagenic, and antidiabetic properties. Green tea contains vitamins B, C, and E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium. Several studies have shown that green tea is effective in inhibiting the growth of certain periodontal bacteria and treating factors associated with periodontitis such as bleeding and tooth attachment loss. Y’all know that anytime is a green tea time with me, don’t need a reason at all!
Aloe vera is one of the best healing plants around. As a teenager, I remember snipping off part of the aloe vera leaf, then cutting it open and placing it on my red, itchy rash. I still use aloe vera gel on my acne breakouts, dark spots, and even occasionally on my hair. It’s not the miracle plant for nothing, folks. Aloe vera has vitamins A, C, E, B vitamins like folic acid, and choline. It also has minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. What makes aloe vera unique is that it contains 75 active constituents including glycoproteins, polysaccharides, and anthraquinones that, either acting alone or synergistically, may have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and wound-healing effects (when applied topically). Aloe sap and aloe gel are sometimes confused. The gel is the mucilage found within the center of the leaf. The gel contains no anthraquinones, which are responsible for the laxative effect of the plant. Aloe vera’s wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties have been widely reported and extensively studied. There is some evidence that indicates that aloe vera may be effective as a treatment for oral diseases such as gingivitis and oral lichen planus. But results are mixed. Some studies suggest a delay of wound healing, while others show that it promotes wound healing. WTF?! Here’s why: aloe vera gel varies based on the type of aloe and other factors such as climate, region, and processing method. So you won’t know unless you try it for yourself and see if it works. I like this brand when I can’t get the actual leaf.
That’s my list for foods that amp up strong gums and teeth. What works for you?