Peanuts, Honey and More Surprising Tricks for a Knockout Smile

Want whiter teeth, healthier gums and an A+ at your next dental check-up, these clever strategies can help

End meals with a sip of green tea
When bacteria latch onto the surface of teeth, they kick-start the formation of plaque -- a sticky, acid-producing mess that damages tooth enamel and ups your risk of cavities. To cut plaque build-up in half, try sipping four ounces of green tea at the end of each meal. According to University of Rochester studies, this herbal brew is packed with compounds that coat bacteria, making them so slippery that they can’t get a grip on your teeth.
 
Scrub ‘em with strawberries
Wish your pearly whites were...whiter? Try this: Once each week, mash a ripe strawberry and mix in enough baking soda to make a thick paste. Gently brush your teeth with this concoction for three minutes, then rinse well. “Strawberries contain malic acid -- a natural bleaching agent that’s even more powerful when it’s combined with mildly abrasive baking soda,” says Mark Breiner, DDS, author of Whole-Body Dentistry.
 
Snack on trailmix
Eat 1/2 cup of peanuts and 1/4 cup dried cranberries daily, and you could cut your risk of tooth and gum problems by 30 percent. Peanuts are rich in oleic acid -- a healthy plant fat that tamps down damaging gum inflammation, UCLA studies showed. And cranberries? According to University of Rochester researchers, they contain chemicals that act like Teflon when they get onto your teeth, making it hard for bacteria to latch on and form plaque.
 
Switch to unpasteurized honey
Add one tablespoon of this sweetener to your daily coffee, toast or cereal (or nibble it straight off the spoon), and you’ll stall the growth of plaque-forming bacteria for 24 hours straight, plus kick-start healing of gum tissues that have been damaged by these troublesome bugs, said University of Illinois researchers. Their studies show that honey (as long as you pick the unpasteurized kind) is loaded with tissue-healing enzymes, plus it contains powerful natural antibiotic compounds.
 
Add a little dairy
According to a Japanese research team, folks who enjoy two or three servings of cheese, milk or yogurt daily are half as likely to ever develop gum disease, which is the leading cause of tooth loss! “The calcium in dairy nourishes and strengthens your gums, just like it does your bones,” explained Jeffrey Gross, DDS, an associate clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry.
 
Shun sports drinks
In a recent study at Carbondale’s Southern Illinois University, women were twice as likely to develop dull, yellowish teeth (and permanent tooth damage) if they drank sports or energy drinks daily. The reason: These sips contain acids that erode protective tooth enamel, the study authors say. Can’t do without your favorite drink? Sipping it through a straw can reduce the damage, since a lot of the liquid goes straight to the back of your mouth when it’s sucked that way, said Gross.
 
Chew on these
Carrots, apples, cucumbers, nuts and seeds...if it’s crispy or crunchy, it’ll help remove surface stains as you chew and swallow, said researchers at Case Western Reserve University. And enjoy fresh, juicy pineapple as often as possible -- according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, pineapple’s key enzyme (bromelain) is a natural tooth whitener, plus it helps dissolve stubborn plaque.
 
Chill out!
At least six different studies have shown links between stress and a woman’s risk of both gum disease and tooth loss! The culprit is cortisol, said Gross. “A constant onslaught of this hormone weakens your immune system’s ability to destroy bacteria and repair tissue damage, allowing small gum problems to mushroom into much bigger ones.” Deep breathing, exercising, yoga, cat naps...whatever relaxation strategy you enjoy, carve 20 minutes out of your busy day to fit it in.
 
Start with plain water
Tarter is a hardened form of plaque that gives teeth a yellowish (or even brownish) tint. To cut your risk of this unsightly build-up, brush with plain water for two minutes daily. “When your teeth aren’t coated with slippery toothpaste, it’s easier for brush bristles to remove sticky plaque before it can harden,” explained Claudio M. Levato, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in Bloomingdale, Illinois. “Just finish off by brushing with toothpaste to get the benefits of its cavity-fighting fluoride.”
 
Stock up on grapefruit
Enjoying two servings daily -- that’s one full grapefruit -- helps banish gum bleeding in as little as one month, and it can cut your risk of full-blown gum disease 20 percent or more, British researchers said. Credit grapefruit’s vitamin C and bioflavonoids -- both of which kick start the growth of healthy new blood vessels and collagen in gum tissue.
 
Try a powered toothbrush
Using a power toothbrush can help you clean your teeth thoroughly without wearing out your arm -- and in a study published in the American Journal of Dentistry, women who started using them cut their plaque levels by 30 percent in just two weeks. More good news: Any brand of power toothbrush will do the trick as long as you use it for two minutes, twice daily, UCLA researchers said -- and you’ll find them for as little as $10 in most pharmacies and department stores.
 
Chew sugar-free gum
According to Harvard researchers, munching one piece of gum daily -- as long as it’s sugar-free -- can cut your risk of bacteria and plaque buildup by as much as 25 percent. Their studies show that the sweeteners used in sugar-free gums (xylitol and sorbitol) stop germs from multiplying and spreading.

Nibble real licorice
According to Swedish researchers, licorice root contains antibacterial compounds that help kill off the germs that make gums red, swollen and sensitive to touch. Look for real licorice candies in nutrition outlets and online under brand names like Panda, Darrell Lea and Kookaburra. Munch three pieces daily for best results.
 
Give your teeth a midday massage
When subjects massaged a tiny dab of toothpaste into their teeth and gums mid-day -- then brushed morning and night as they normally would -- they increased their cavity protection by as much as 50 percent, a Swedish study found. "This simple trick gives your mouth a mid-day dose of cavity-fighting fluoride -- no toothbrush required!" said lead researcher Anna Nordström, Ph.D. Just swish and spit a little water if you don’t want to swallow toothpaste.
 
Cook with coconut oil
In an Irish study, coconut oil’s powerful antibacterial compounds were found to be a great destroyer of Streptococcus bacteria -- a hardy, troublesome group of bugs that fuel plaque formation and tarter build-up. One tablespoon daily can do the trick. Coconut oil is flavorless, so it can easily replace shortening or vegetable oil in any recipe, plus it’s great for frying, and can be spread on toast underneath other toppings.
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