foods to eat—and foods to avoid—to heal cavities naturally
Last updated on July 11, 2018
it’s totally possible to heal cavities naturally without a filling, and it all starts with your diet. knowing which foods to eat and which foods to avoid can help you reverse your cavities at home and avoid the drill.
As a dentist, I am a strong believer in equipping my patients with the necessary tools and information to treat the root cause of their dental issues, instead of just treating the symptoms. And that is certainly the case when treating cavities.
Many people suffer from dental anxiety, and it’s often related to cavities. Unfortunately, fillings are often the first line of defense against tooth decay, no matter how minimal the decay may be. There are definitely some cavities that require fillings (typically those that are deep enough to reach the nerve, thus causing pain), but I want you to also be aware that you have the power to reverse smaller cavities on your own, at home—and much of that power comes directly from the foods you eat.
Obviously, the best way to treat cavities is to avoid them altogether, and the good news is that the diet that helps to heal existing cavities also helps to prevent new ones from forming.
But before we get into the specific foods that can heal and prevent cavities, let’s first discuss some basics about cavity formation and the role that food plays in that process.
There are four main factors in standard cavity formation:
1Your saliva and its properties—including minerals, volume, pH, and more
2Your oral microbiome—the millions of microbes in your mouth, whether harmful, beneficial, or neutral.
3Your diet—whether or not you’re getting enough of the proper nutrients for remineralization.
4How frequently these three elements create the perfect storm for cavity formation.
The foods you eat on a daily basis have a direct impact on your oral microbiome and saliva, and when you eat the wrong foods (more on those later), you create an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Additionally, the quality of your diet determines whether you are getting the necessary nutrients to support the teeth’s natural remineralization process. The word remineralization refers to the process of restoring minerals to demineralized areas—typically bones, teeth, or any other parts of the body that require certain minerals for their structure.
Your teeth experience a lot of wear and tear, and their ability to continually regenerate allows you to, ideally, keep the same set of teeth for the vast majority of your life. This process requires specific vitamins and minerals, however, and if you’re not getting them from your diet or from supplementation, you may be hindering your teeth’s ability to heal themselves.
Bottom line: You’d probably agree that there are foods that can cause cavities, but you may not have realized that there are foods that can actually prevent and even reverse cavities.
what to eat to reverse cavities
Now, let’s take a closer look at the the specific nutrients your teeth need to reverse cavities, and where to find them in food.
Calcium has long been known to benefit dental health. In addition to providing the (re)building blocks that teeth need on a regular basis, calcium also helps you produce more saliva, putting minerals back onto your teeth that you may have lost from eating. (1)
Most people assume that dairy products like milk and cheese are the best food sources of calcium, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many people who have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, and conventionally-raised dairy products contain hormones and antibiotics that negate any potential mineral benefit. These products should be avoided.
On the other hand, raw, grass-fed milk seems to be more easily tolerated and digested, and it is also higher in mineral count than products sourced from factory-farmed cattle. Surprisingly, seafoods like salmon, oysters, clams, and shrimp are also great sources of calcium, as are plant-based foods like broccoli, greens, nuts, cauliflower, figs, and olives.
Often called the sunshine vitamin (it’s produced by the skin during exposure to the sun), vitamin D actually functions more like a hormone than a traditional vitamin. It controls the body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, so even if you are supplementing with those minerals in an attempt to improve dental health, your efforts are largely wasted if you’re not also monitoring your levels of vitamin D.
To underscore this fact, a review of a group of clinical trials found that vitamin D was a “promising preventative agent against tooth cavities and decay, which leads to a low-certainty conclusion that vitamin D may reduce the incidence of dental caries.” (2)
Spending time in the sun is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, but vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, egg yolks, and fish like salmon and sardines. (3)
Like vitamin D, vitamin K2 regulates the absorption of minerals in the body. In fact, these two fat-soluble vitamins work in tandem to ensure that teeth have the calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium needed for remineralization.
Vitamin K2 can be found in fermented cod liver oil, egg yolks, chicken liver, and ground beef, as well as organic, grass-fed dairy products like aged cheese (for those who can tolerate dairy).
Magnesium is responsible for numerous processes in the body, including the remineralization of teeth. Magnesium controls the balance of other nutrients in the body—including phosphorus and calcium—which, when left unchecked, can actually promote the demineralization of teeth.
Try including these rich sources of magnesium in your diet: squash seeds, cacao, blackstrap molasses, leafy greens, and avocado.
Adequate phosphorus levels (typically above 3.5) have been shown to protect against tooth decay, but finding sources of phosphorus that actually benefit dental health can be tricky. (4) Phosphorus is present in beans, grains, and nuts, but those foods also contain phytic acid. This is problematic because phytic acid is known to bind to the the nutrients in food, making it difficult for our bodies to actually use them. (5)
The good news is that there are plenty of phytic acid-free sources of phosphorus, including meats, eggs, and dairy products. And without the phytic acid, the phosphorus found in animal proteins may be easier for the body to absorb.
foods to avoid to reverse cavities
We’ve already clearly defined “remineralization.” To build a growing understanding of healing cavities naturally, we should also clearly define the word “demineralization.”
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Merriam-Webster defines demineralization as:
1Loss of bodily minerals (such as calcium salts), especially in disease
2The process of removing mineral matter or salts (as from water)
Tooth decay/demineralization is certainly caused by a deficiency of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs to build healthy teeth. But it can also be caused by eating or drinking substances that can actually deplete the teeth of necessary nutrients.
Since we have created a good, working list of foods that we should eat in order to heal cavities naturally, we should also put together a list of foods to avoid (or greatly limit).
Thanks to a strong push from the media we all know that sugar is bad for your teeth. It’s definitely not the only culprit, though. Here’s a look at the top foods that promote the demineralization of teeth. Essentially, eating these foods on a regular basis makes healing your cavities naturally nearly impossible.
foods high in phytic acid
Phytic acid is a well-known antinutrient that inhibits the absorption of certain nutrients, including minerals that are needed for remineralization, like calcium and magnesium. (6) It is typically found in grains, legumes, and nuts, including:
People are often surprised to hear me say that saltine crackers are one of the worst cavity-causing foods, but it’s true. That’s because they are a simple starch that turns to sugar almost immediately after consumption. That fuzzy feeling on your teeth after you’ve finished eating a handful of crackers? It’s from the millions of harmful bacteria that love to feed on those types of foods, eventually multiplying and causing further tooth decay (and bad breath). Other examples of simple starches include:
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sugary foods and drinks
Like starchy foods (that ultimately turn to sugar in the body), sugary foods and drinks provide food for the bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities. Additionally, when these nutrient-deficient foods make up a large part of your diet, it’s also likely that you’re not consuming enough of the nutrients your body actually needs. If you’re trying to reverse your cavities, these foods should be avoided:
When grapes are converted into raisins, all of the water present in the fruit must be removed. This process concentrates all of the naturally-occuring sugars, which explains why raisins taste so much sweeter than grapes. it also explains why dried fruits are horrible for your teeth. They act like a sticky caramel in the mouth, trapping sugar and sugar-loving bacteria onto the teeth.
acidic foods and drinks
The acid found in the following foods wears away the enamel of teeth and exacerbates decay:
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•Orange, lemon and grapefruit juices (These can be highly damaging to your teeth, in one study, decreasing enamel hardness by 84%. Acids found in citrus break down the enamel, sometimes causing irreversible damage.) (7)
•Sports drinks (Not only are they full of sugar, but at least one study has found that they are even more acidic than soda.) (8)
•Kombucha (While touted as a “healthy” drink, kombucha has a pH between 3.5 and 2.8—lower than coffee and many sodas, and certainly low enough to dissolve the enamel on teeth.) (9)
Acidic foods and drinks also strip minerals from your teeth (and body), leading to demineralization and decay. However, it would probably be impossible to avoid every single one of these foods all the time. If you can’t resist, (I know how important that morning cup of coffee is to many people) be sure to rinse your mouth with water immediately after consumption.
final thoughts: the best diet for remineralization
Foods rich in vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus will help your teeth remineralize and stave off cavities, while also helping to reverse any current cavity formation through remineralization.
When eating acidic and/or sugary foods, remember to think about it wisely. You should try rinsing your mouth after eating these types of foods whenever possible, and minimize your intake.
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The bottom line is this: Avoiding sugary sodas and candies is just one way to slow down the demineralization process. Adopting the best diet for remineralization also includes focusing on eating the right foods, and being aware of the potential consequences of many other foods groups.
One of the stereotypes of dentists is that we don’t want you to eat sugar or candy. So if you avoid candy and sugary things, you’re in the clear…right?
Not quite. It’s great to avoid candy but there are several foods you can eat to help build healthier teeth and gums, prevent tooth decay and gum disease, as well as keep your mouth and smile looking young and beautiful for your whole life.
Not only that, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that one of the best foods for your teeth that I’m about to suggest below actually qualifies as “candy.”
Check out the five superfoods for your teeth below. When you’re done, check out my list of top 5 worst foods for your teeth, which also might surprise you since candy didn’t make the list.
Dark chocolate (we’re talking about the 70% cacao stuff, not sugar-laden milk chocolate) is a superfood for the teeth due to a compound called CBH which was proven in animal tests to help harden tooth enamel, making your teeth less susceptible to tooth decay. In other words, dark chocolate may actually help prevent cavities!
Click here to read more about the mechanisms of the benefits of chocolate for the mouth, click here.
What makes cheese a superfood for the teeth is its ability to combat acid erosion of the teeth. Every time you eat a meal with breads, sweets, citrus, or soda, your teeth are exposed to tons of tooth decay causing acid.
Eating cheese after a meal can counteract the acid left behind by a meal, making it a great choice for dessert! Stick to sheep and goat’s cheeses, which are better for you and easier on the digestive system than cheese made of cow’s milk.
The only bad part about cheese is that many of us eat cheese on a saltine cracker, which is the #1 most cavity causing food (yes, you read right! It’s worse than candy when it comes to cavities). Have your cheese on a flourless cracker (Mary’s Gone Crackers are my favorite) and eat cheese guilt free.
3. wild salmon
Hopefully you’re getting enough calcium in your diet since calcium protects your teeth and gums from disease. But did you know that your body can’t absorb all that calcium if you don’t have enough vitamin D in your diet?
Fatty fish is a fantastic source of vitamin D, which allows your teeth and gums to get the full disease-fighting benefits of calcium from the foods you eat. Taking a supplement of vitamin D (5000 iu per day) is another great way of getting the proper vitamin D intake into your diet.
This one may be a bit of a surprise, since oranges are a citrus and I’ve already warned you about the effects of acid on the teeth. But the vitamin C in citrus strengthens blood vessels and connective tissue and slows down the progression of gum disease by reducing inflammation.
Just make sure not to brush right after you eat citrus fruits. Have a glass of sparkling water (high pH water with minerals) and then brush later. Always wait at least a half hour after consuming acidic food or drink before brushing.
Saliva is made up of 99.5% water. Dehydration can thicken your saliva, which wreaks havoc in the mouth. Why?
Optimum levels of water in your saliva are essential to proper breakdown of food, neutralizing bacterial acid (and thus, bad breath), and preventing tooth decay. If you’ve ever suffered from dry mouth, you know that saliva helps ward off bad breath. This is because saliva neutralizes bacterial acid in the mouth.
Your saliva is important, so keep it well hydrated with half your body weight in ounces of water throughout the day. If you’re 150 pounds, that’s roughly 75 ounces of water every day that you need to stay hydrated.
Additionally, while water still isn’t as good as a toothbrush and floss, it can still aid in reducing plaque by rinsing away food debris. Rinsing with water after drinking coffee or having other staining foods can help reduce staining to the teeth.
6. fruits and vegetables
Don’t have a toothbrush handy? High-fiber fruits and vegetables are your next best option. Their high fiber content physically scrubs the teeth similar to the way your toothbrush might and stimulates saliva production because of the extra chewing they require.
The scrubbing action is good because it reduces the amount of plaque buildup until you can get to your toothbrush and floss. If you’ve ever woken up with morning breath, you’ll know intuitively that saliva production is what wards off bad breath. Saliva neutralizes tooth enamel damaging acids.
The high water content in crunchy, juicy fruits and vegetables helps to offset their sugar content. Eating an apple a day will make your dentist and hygienist very happy.
Xylitol has been proven to ward off tooth decay due to compounds in it which kill tooth decay causing bacteria.
What is xylitol? It’s a sweetener you’ll find in many sugarless gums. Chewing gum increases saliva production, which wards off tooth decay and bad breath – meaning you get double the benefits!
Most importantly, xylitol will properly populate your mouth with the correct ratio of bad to good bacteria, aiding in digestion and overall oral health.
8. green and black tea
Polyphenols, which are found in green and black tea, interact with the bacteria that cause plaque by killing or suppressing them. Bacteria feed on the sugars in your mouth and, once they’ve had their feast, they excrete tooth enamel destroying acids. This makes tea a great choice for during or after a meal, since it suppresses the presence of these acid producing bacteria in the mouth.
Polyphenols in tea also have cavity-fighting properties. You may have heard that tea contains fluoride, which is true, but not enough to make a difference for your teeth or health.
A dentist recommending chocolate? Yes, that’s right, you read correctly. Recent studies emerging from Japan, England, and the U.S. support the fact that chocolate is effective at fighting cavities, plaque, and tooth decay in the mouth.
Dark chocolate (I can’t speak for sugary milk chocolate) doesn’t deserve its bad rap as a cavity-causing treat. It may actually help prevent cavities!
And here’s where the gauntlet gets thrown down. Compounds in chocolate may be more effective at fighting decay than fluoride. Researchers are predicting that one day, the compound found in chocolate called CBH will be used in mouthwashes and toothpaste.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth turn sugar into acids, which eat away at the tooth’s surface and cause cavities. Compounds in the cocoa bean husk have an anti-bacterial effect and also fight against plaque. This makes chocolate less harmful than many other sweet foods your dentist might warn you against because the antibacterial agents in cocoa beans offset its high sugar levels.
This research has even revealed that the cocoa extract is more effective than fluoride in fighting cavities. To many, this is shocking news, but for me that’s not saying much. I’m not a big fan of ingesting fluoride, and I think it has long been over-hyped (more on that in future posts).
The compound CBH, a white crystalline powder whose chemical makeup is similar to caffeine, helps harden tooth enamel, making users less susceptible to tooth decay. This specific compound has been proven effective in the animal model, but it will it will take another two to four years before the product is approved for human use and available for sale (in the form of mouthwashes and toothpaste).
In the mean time, however, one can “administer” this compound via the ingestion of chocolate. Eating 3-4 oz of chocolate a day is a great way to take advantage of this wonder compound and lower your chance of getting cavities. What an easy and fun recommendation a doctor can make; it’s been called the food of the gods, a supposed aphrodisiac, and the drink that Casanova favored.
Now, before you reach for that Snickers bar, listen to this:
For the best therapeutic effect (yes, I’m still talking about chocolate), it’s best to chew on cacao nibs. Most will find this option unpalatable.
The second best choice, is dark chocolate with less than 6-8 grams of sugar per serving – organic if possible. Be aware that chocolate is a calorie-rich food, so modify your calorie intake accordingly.
Raw chocolate is even a better choice, as it it less processed, and more of the antioxidants are left intact.
Do all of this for your teeth, but enjoy the other benefits of mood elevation and better blood flow as well!
With the recent findings, it’s now more true than ever, that chocolate is a superfood. Chocolate has over 300 chemical compounds in it, making it one of the most complex foods we know of, and I predict that many new compounds in chocolate beneficial to us will surface over time and cement its nutritional five star rating.
Mark Burhenne DDS
Want whiter teeth? Munch on dark chocolate, cheese and strawberries, says leading dentist
•Dr Harold Katz says dark chocolate helps harden the enamel surface of teeth
•He says green tea contains tannins which stop bacteria sticking to teeth
•And, he says strawberries contain malic acid which removes stains
•Cheese, he says, makes the mouth less acidic so tooth erosion is reduced
By EMMA INNES
PUBLISHED: 11:43 EDT, 18 June 2014 | UPDATED: 11:49 EDT, 18 June 2014
Coffee and red wine are known offenders when it comes to staining teeth.
But did you know there are foods that can actually help whiten them?
Beverly Hills dentist Dr Harold Katz says dark chocolate, green tea and strawberries can all help.
And to get the best results, they should eaten first thing in the morning after plaque has built up on the teeth during the night.
Here, Dr Katz’s shares his top tips for naturally white teeth with MailOnline…