Believe it or not, your teeth have a lot to do with your health. Poor nutrition and a lack of certain key nutrients increase the risk of developing oral diseases, but there also is a direct link between periodontal disease and chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

A well-balanced diet can help strengthen the immune system, promote healing and contribute to healthy teeth and gums.

So, what’s the best diet for oral health?

Choose calcium-rich foods like milk; yogurt; cheese; almonds; dark, leafy green vegetables; calcium-fortified non-dairy drinks; and tofu.

Choose vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamins help combat bleeding and swollen gums, loosening of teeth and tooth decay. Vitamin C-rich foods include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, tomatoes, bell and hot peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Check your vitamin D. Have your doctor do a blood test to find out your vitamin D levels. You may need a supplement. Make sure to eat vitamin D-fortified foods such as dairy products, orange juice and soy milk.

In between meals or snacks, chew sugarless gum to prevent cavities.

Reduce your intake of sugary beverages and sticky foods. Soda, juice, energy drinks and sweetened coffee drinks all can contain hefty amounts of sugar. Sticky foods like raisins can stick to your teeth and gums.

Choose water or milk for beverages.

The bottom line? Your plan for healthy eating, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate — half your plate fruits and vegetables, one-fourth lean meat and one-fourth whole grains — just happens to be a great plan for good oral health as well. Oh, and don’t forget to brush twice a day, floss once a day and see your dentist regularly. You’d make Mom proud.

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