“Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” I’ve been told more than once. While I do my best to watch what goes on my plate and eventually into my mouth, I don’t always consider the effect of certain foods on my dental health. Thinking about it now, I find it odd, given how we eat. As children, the dangers of eating too much sugar are drilled into our heads, and we’re warned to go easy on chewing gum (and not to swallow it). School posters of food pyramids tout which foods benefit which parts of the body, but what can we eat that also contributes to healthy, strong teeth?

Next time you hit the grocery store in order to restock the pantry, pay attention to nutrition labels, and consider adding a few dental-friendly snacks to your cart. Here are a few suggestions to whet your appetite.

1) Cheese and dairy products. If you are tolerant of lactose, try adding some yogurt, mild cheeses, and milk to the menu. Foods rich in calcium are believed to help tooth strength and brightness.

2) Lean proteins and nuts. The phosphorus found in certain protein-rich foods can prove helpful in restoring minerals to your teeth, and in turn protecting the enamel.

3) Low-acidic fruits. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and one might argue enough apples help during dental visits. The crunchiness of the fruit helps work your teeth as you chew, and the water content acts as a buffer that protects your teeth from acid.

4) Water. You should be drinking at least eight glasses of water daily, regardless. Water hydrates the body and is perhaps the best liquid to drink for maintaining healthy teeth. If you enjoy soda, coffee, and tea, however, try to limit the consumption and don’t feel silly about bringing a toothbrush to work for use after lunch.

What About Sweeteners?

You may ask, what about diet soft drinks and pink packets for coffee and tea? Technically they are not sugar, but are artificial sweeteners as bad or worse for your teeth? You may wish to consult with your dentist about whether or not sugar substitutes are as damaging to enamel. Some non-sugar sweets may contain honey, stevia, agave, or other ingredients that may not sit well with you health-wise, so it’s best to check.

Regardless of what you eat or drink, take care of your teeth through daily brushing and flossing, and smile!

Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles for Beach dental offices.