oral health

Eating for Optimum Oral Health

Daily brushing with toothpaste and flossing are essential to a healthy smile, but did you know that nutrition also has an effect on your oral health? A balanced eating plan with fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy provides essential nutrients for healthy teeth and gums.

Do you know about the gut microbiome? It has been one of the hottest topics in the health and nutrition world in the last few years. The idea is that the billions of bacteria that are living in our gut are determining how our nutrients are digested. This is important because it impacts SO many things! If we are not able to digest food properly, our bodies won’t absorb certain nutrients. This can lead to a variety of deficiencies!

Furthermore, our bodies may experience nutrition-related symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that NO ONE wants to live with chronic bloating, gas, or constipation. A healthy and well-functioning digestive system can improve our quality of life in an incredible way!

According to the Human Oral Microbiome Database (HOMD), the oral cavity presents approximately 700 species of microorganisms. Evidence supports that oral dysbiosis (a disturbance in the oral bacteria) is closely associated with systemic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This means that imbalances in our oral bacteria can increase our chances of developing diseases. How can we prevent this from happening?

oral health – Eating for Optimum Oral Health

Foods For Good Oral Health

First, we ensure that we are choosing foods and beverages that will prevent tooth decay, acid/plaque buildup, and the disruption of oral and/or gut bacteria. We can keep our gums and teeth healthy through the foods we eat every day! Let’s dive into a few of the most important nutrients for healthy teeth and gums below:

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 plays a key role in absorbing and retaining calcium and phosphorus for bone and tooth mineralization. Naturally, since your teeth are made of bone, a lack of vitamin D3 can impact the health and condition of your teeth. If your body doesn’t get enough vitamin D, you’re at risk of developing deteriorating teeth and gums, as well as bone abnormalities like soft bones (osteomalacia) or fragile bones (osteoporosis).

Vitamin K2

Without vitamin K2, the body’s calcium may not end up in bones and teeth where it’s actually needed. Instead, it might travel to arteries, where it calcifies and leads to heart disease. Vitamins D3 and K2 work synergistically to carry and deposit calcium to your teeth and bones where it can be properly absorbed! When one part of that system is out of whack, the whole process is disrupted. This can lead to poor dental health, even when you’re brushing and flossing regularly.


Magnesium is responsible for over 600 enzymatic reactions. These processes regulate important biochemical reactions such as:

  • Nerve function
  • Bone development
  • Calcium and potassium transport

Since calcium is needed for bone mineralization, growth, and repair, magnesium is vital in helping to maintain a healthy oral microbiome.

Vitamin C and Collagen

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is essential for the maintenance of collagen. For reference, collagen represents almost 1/3 of the body’s total proteins. Collagen is a constituent protein of bones, cartilages, ligaments, cornea and eye lenses, skin, intervertebral discs, teeth, tendons, gums, blood vessels, and heart valves. Therefore, to ensure our teeth and gums stay healthy, adequate vitamin C and collagen are an important part of a healthy diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s can drastically reduce the signs of periodontal disease (gum disease). A diet rich in DHA and EPA omega-3s (learn more about them here!), whether through supplements or diet, can help maintain gum health and keep teeth securely rooted. They can prevent tooth decay that can often form in the spaces between damaged gums and the tooth itself.

Trace Minerals

Trace minerals like potassium and phosphorus are super important for oral health! Potassium improves your bone mineral density. It also works with magnesium to prevent your blood from becoming too acidic, which can leach calcium from your bones and teeth. Phosphorus is a mineral that’s present in your bones, teeth, and even your DNA! It works with calcium to create hydroxyapatite, the main structural component of bones and tooth enamel.


CoQ10 is an enzyme that helps produce cellular energy. All cells require this enzyme for normal function, including the gums! CoQ10 is present throughout our bodies, and most people will get enough from their diets without taking supplements. CoQ10 is found in whole grains, fish, and liver, but if you don’t think you’re getting enough of this important enzyme, you may want to consult your dentist about how you can boost your intake.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics have proven health benefits individually, but it is believed that the two can be even more effective when working together. Both have shown the capability of neutralizing pH (cavity prevention), decreasing inflammation, disrupting biofilm (dental plaque), and balancing the microbiota when consumed in tandem. Some foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics include artichokes, apples, bananas, berries, cocoa, kefir, kimchi, leeks, sauerkraut, and Greek yogurt.

From the Dietitian

So, what are some ways you can ensure you’re eating to optimize your oral health?

  • Eat whole foods
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Drink water

Processed foods have been linked to higher rates of obesity and other chronic diseases for years. We know a diet high in added sugars, refined carbohydrates and oils, sodium, and fillers, dyes, and preservatives can all lead to poor health outcomes. A recent research study published in Plos One in April 2022 highlights a significant and almost immediate impact of food preservatives on the mouth microbiome. Within less than 10 minutes of exposure to sulfite preservatives, studies found a 26-31% decrease in viable oral bacteria. What does this mean? It means that preservatives from processed foods are changing the structure and functioning of the living bacteria in our mouth and gut.

If you’re interested in adjusting your diet, the YMCA Nutrition Counseling Program helps adults find a healthier way of eating that’s right for them with the help of our Registered Dietitian. Learn more »


Mattie Lefever, LDN, RDN

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