You can’t go a day without seeing a new article about which diet is the best for losing weight, staying healthy, building muscle, or being environmentally responsible. There always seems to be some new trend that everyone is trying out. It can be hard enough to sort out which one is right for you before you even start asking the question I’m always thinking…
“What will it do to your teeth??”
I know. I know. It’s probably not the first question that comes to most people’s minds. I think it is a really important one though. A healthy set of teeth is important for eating and chewing as well as overall health. Many people are starting to realize that your mouth is a window into the health of the rest of your body. A great diet should be healthy for your teeth as well as for the rest of your body. Figuring out that part… Not so easy, but I’ve got you covered!
I’m going to go through all the major diets out there, and rank them according to how tooth friendly they are (This doesn’t take into account if the diet is effective for anything else… just how “safe” it is for your teeth). These rankings are my subjective ratings on the diets based on how I think the average person would use the diet.
One last piece of advice before we get into the rankings….
Almost any diet can be made “teeth healthy” if you understand and follow the basic rules about how to eat for healthy teeth. The problem is that people don’t usually understand how the process works, what foods can actually cause cavities, and how to avoid it.
Diets with a Tooth Score of 0-2 will be very challenging to follow as is and not develop cavities long term.
Diets with a Tooth Score of 3 can be made teeth healthy if you watch what and how you’re eating.
Diets with a Tooth Score of 4-5 will typically be quite teeth healthy without much modification.
This diet recommends six meals a day, each meal containing at least two of it’s twelve superfoods (Almonds/Other Nuts, Beans, Spinach/Green Veggies, Dairy, Instant Oatmeal, Eggs, Turkey/Lean Meats, Peanut Butter, Olive Oil, Whole Grain Breads and Cereals, Whey Protein Powder, and Berries. Smoothies are a highly recommended way to get many of these meals in.
Pros: It recommends limiting refined carbohydrates and sugar.
Cons: It keeps you eating all throughout the day. Whole grain breads and cereals can still cause cavities. Sipping on smoothies, especially if they are berry heavy, is a good way to get cavities.
Tooth Score: 2/5. The constant eating is the biggest risk factor with this diet.
This diet is a relatively complicated one to follow! Here are the basic rules… 1) Eat as much fresh food as possible 2) Avoid processed foods and sugars 3) Get 40-50% of your calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 20-30% from protein 4) Eat whole grains 5) Eat pasta in moderation 6) Avoid high fructose 7) Reduce your intake of saturated fats 8) Eat more vegetable based protein than animal based protein other than fish 9) Eat fruits and vegetables from the entire color spectrum and 10) Drink water
Cons: It can be complicated to follow and know if you’re doing right.
Tooth Score: 4/5. It cuts out the vast majority of foods that are known to cause cavities.
The Atkins diet is one of the most popular low carb diets out there. It has you cut out almost all starchy and sugary carb foods including candy, cookies, chips, potatoes, pasta, bread, and sugary drinks.
Pros: It cuts out almost all carbs and sugars which are the biggest contributors to tooth decay.
Cons: None for your teeth.
Tooth Score: 5/5. By cutting out almost all carbs (except those you get from vegetables) you reduce your risk for cavities drastically.
BIGGEST LOSER DIET
The Biggest Loser Diet, popularized by the reality television show, focuses on small portions of food eaten in 5-6 meals throughout the day. It emphasizes weight loss which is achieved by eating fewer calories. The recommended foods for this diet include lean proteins such as turkey or chicken, low fat dairy, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts.
Pros: It cuts out refined carbohydrates.
Cons: You are eating more frequently and still have a good number of sugars and carbs in your diet from grains and fruits.
Tooth Score: 2/5. The combination of eating frequently and carbs isn’t usually a good one for your teeth. Limiting how often you eat grains and fruits will help lessen the impact on your teeth.
The DASH diet was originally created as a diet to help keep blood pressure in check. It has since been rated by several publications as one of the best overall diets to follow. It recommends eating the following servings of food each day (on a 2000 calorie diet): 7-8 servings of whole grains, 4-5 servings of fruit, 4-5 servings of vegetables, 2-3 servings of low fat or non-fat dairy, 2 or less servings of lean meats, fish, or poultry, 4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes, and limited consumption of fats and sweets. It also recommends keeping sodium intake very low
Pros: Great for your overall health
Cons: It has a large proportion of your food coming from grain and grain products as well as fruits. All of these can contribute to cavities if eaten too frequently.
Tooth Score: 3/5. To make this diet more teeth healthy, limit grain products, fruits, and any sugary items to your specific mealtimes and don’t snack on them throughout the day.
FAST DIET (5:2)
The fast diet (the most popular of which is the 5:2 variety) is a diet in which you eat normally 5 days out of the week and the other two days you eat a very small number of calories (usually around 500 calories). The goal of this diet is to lose weight. It says you can pretty much eat what you want on your non-fast days. The major goal is calorie reduction.
Pros: One of the easier ones to follow.
Cons: There aren’t any recommendations about cutting out refined carbs and sugar.
Tooth Score: 1/5 if your 5 regular days are like the typical western diet (high in refined carbs, sugars, and sweet drinks). If you eat more healthy foods on your regular days this could be a reasonable diet for your teeth.
The Fertility Diet as the name suggests was created to help people get pregnant. Many cases of infertility are related to the woman not ovulating which this diet can help with. The rules include avoiding trans fats, using unsaturated vegetable oils, eating vegetable proteins instead of animal proteins, eating slow carbs such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, drinking whole milk, eating iron containing plants, and staying hydrated while avoiding sugary drinks.
Pros: It recommends avoiding refined carbohydrates and extra sugars.
Cons: It is recommended that some women gain weight on the diet to get to a more healthy BMI for fertility. It is easy to eat the wrong foods in order to do this (such as ice cream or too many carbs).
Tooth Score: 4/5. Overall a good diet as long as you watch how often you’re consuming carbs and fruits.
FLAT BELLY DIET
The Flat Belly Diet claims you can lose up to 15 lbs in a month with their system. For the first four days of the diet you can only eat 1200 calories and avoid all salt, processed foods, carbs, and gassy foods such as broccoli, onions, and beans. After the first four days you shoot for 1600 calories a day, eating a small meal/snack every four hours and sticking to a Mediterranean style diet. You also have to drink 2 liters of water a day that has been mixed with ginger root, cucumber, lemon, and mint leaves.
Pros: After the first four days, it sticks to a Mediterranean style diet, which is pretty tooth safe.
Cons: The water concoction isn’t great for your teeth (regular water would be much better) and eating all throughout the day is associated with a higher rate of developing cavities.
Tooth Score: 2/5. If you drink plain water instead of their “sassy water” and avoid most processed carbs and sugars, it’ll be much safer for your teeth.
The Flexitarian diet aims to have you add five new food groups to your diet without putting specific restrictions on what else you can eat: Plant proteins such as tofu, beans, nuts, eggs, or seeds, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and sugar and spice. It also aims to reduce the calories you eat each day.
Pros: Relatively easy to follow.
Cons: Easy to justify eating too many carbs and sugar.
Tooth score: 2/5. While much healthier than the standard diet, it still allows a lot of cavity creating foods, which if eaten too frequently will definitely cause tooth decay.
GLYCEMIC INDEX DIET
The Glycemic Index Diet attempts to get you to only eat foods that have a low glycemic index (eg. that don’t spike your blood sugar quickly such as refined carbohydrates, sugars, crackers, etc).
Pros: Many of the foods that have a high glycemic index are also cavity causing. Cutting them out will help.
Cons: Some of the moderate to low glycemic index foods can still cause cavities (such as fruits, pasta, or ice cream).
Tooth score 3/5. If you watch how often you eat those additional cavity causing foods, you can lessen the impact on your teeth.
Intermittent fasting is a pretty broad term that spans everything from the 5:2 fast diet to one meal a day to a whole variety of other diets. The one thing that binds them all together is the emphasis on extended periods of not eating / minimal eating.
Pros: Extended fast periods are good and safe for your teeth.
Cons: No guidance on what types of foods to eat.
Tooth score: 4/5. One of the biggest factors in developing cavities is the frequency with which you eat sugars and carbohydrates that cavity causing bacteria feed on. Intermittent fasting makes it so that you don’t eat them frequently, even if you do eat them.
JENNY CRAIG DIET
Many people love the Jenny Craig Diet because they make it easy. They send you pre-packaged meals and provide you with the meal plans so that you can stay on track. Portion size control is the biggest thing that they do for you.
Pros: By having pre-set meals and snacks you are able to avoid constant snacking throughout the day.
Cons: There are still a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugars in their meals, snacks, and desserts.
Tooth Score: 3/5.
MAYO CLINIC DIET
The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on eating according to their Healthy Food Pyramid which emphasizes eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and in lesser amounts, “smart” carbohydrates such as whole grains. For the initial portion of the diet, they also recommend cutting out artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and all sugary items but are added back after losing the weight you’d like to lose.
Pros: It recommends cutting out refined carbohydrates and eat “smart ” carbohydrates such as you’ll find in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Cons: Carbohydrates (with a picture of pasta) are still high on their list of foods to eat.
Tooth Score: 3/5
The Mediterranean Diet basically has four different categories of foods to eat… Eat regularly, Eat in Moderation, Eat Rarely, and Don’t Eat. Eat regularly includes fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and pasta, nuts, beans, fish, and healthy oils such as olive oil. Eat in moderation includes eggs, dairy, and poultry. Eat rarely includes red meat. Don’t eat includes refined carbohydrates, processed foods, processed meats, and sugars.
Pros: It cuts out refined carbohydrates.
Cons: It still has a heavy emphasis on carbohydrates and fruits which can both cause cavities if eaten frequently.
Tooth Score: 3/5
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (quite a mouthful!). The goal of the diet is to reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that it is effective in doing this if followed well. The foods it recommends eating are a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, specifically the ones that are good for brain health. These include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, fish, and poultry.
Pros: It cuts out refined carbohydrates.
Cons: Like the two diets it is based on, a large proportion of calories still come from carbohydrates and fruits. This can cause cavities if eaten too frequently.
Tooth Score: 3/5.
The Nutrisystem diet is similar to the Jenny Craig Diet in that you select from pre-packaged meals that are shipped to your house. It focuses on portion control and eating many small meals throughout the day. The meals shoot for 50% of your calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 25% from fat.
Pros: You have some flexibility in what meals you get.
Cons: A lot of meals have sugar or a lot of carbohydrates in them and it also recommends you eat frequently throughout the day.
Tooth Score: 2/5. Too many carbohydrates too often can lead to cavities.
In the Ornish diet foods are broken up into five categories, Group 1 being the most healthy all the way to Group 5 which is the least healthy. Group 1 includes fruits, vegetables, beans, non-fat dairy, and whole grains. Group 2 includes avacados, nuts, seeds, and various oils such as canola or olive. Group 3 includes seafood and reduced fat dairy products. Group 4 includes poultry, whole fat dairy products, cookies, and cakes. Group 5 includes red meat, butter, fried foods, and other highly processed foods. The goal is to eat primarily from groups 1 and 2, occasionally from group 3, and infrequently from groups 4 and 5.
Pros: It cuts out most refined carbohydrates.
Cons: Depending on how you implement the diet you can end up with a lot of carb heavy meals.
Tooth Score 3/5
The goal of the Paleo diet is to eat like early humans used to eat. This can be quite variable so there are a good number of variations on this diet. Most practitioners of the Paleo diet recommend getting the vast majority of your calories from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meat. Beans, sugars, and most carbohydrates, even whole grain, are a big no-no.
Pro: It cuts out most carbohydrates except for what you get from fruits and vegetables.
Cons: It’s unclear if this diet is actually healthy for the rest of your body (even though it is pretty good for your teeth)
Tooth Score: 5/5
SLIM FAST DIET
You eat Slim Fast products as meal replacements. These primarily include shakes, meals bars, and snack bars. You also fix one 500 calorie meal a day. The primary goal of this diet is to lose weight, not to be a long term diet plan.
Pro: It is an easy diet to follow, if not very exciting.
Cons: Most of the products have sugar or carbs in them.
Tooth Score 1/5.
SLOW CARB DIET
The Slow Carb Diet was popularized by Tim Ferris in his book, “The Four Hour Body”. Tim Ferris differentiates between “fast carbs” and “slow carbs”. Fast carbs are things like sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white flour) that break down quickly into sugars. He specifically says to avoid anything white and starchy as well as fruits. Slow carbs are things like whole grains and vegetables that your body breaks down much more slowly. You basically cut out all “fast carbs” from your diet 6 out of the 7 days of the week. The 7th day is a cheat day and you can eat whatever you want. You also shouldn’t drink any calories so no sugary drinks allowed.
Pros: The diet really cuts out the vast majority of foods that cause cavities.
Cons: Most people go crazy on the cheat day, but it shouldn’t be too much of problem if eat the right things on the other days.
Tooth Score: 4/5
SMOOTHIE OR JUICING DIET
Several documentaries have extolled the virtues of a smoothie or juicing only diet for some period of time in order to lose weight. The most popular of these is “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”. The basic idea is that you only make fruit and vegetable smoothies or juice for whatever period of time you need in order to lose your required amount of weight.
Pros: None that I can think of.
Cons: Drinks with sugar (such as almost every smoothie or juice) are terrible for your teeth, especially if you consume them frequently.
Tooth Score: 0/5. This is a dangerous one for your teeth.
SOUTH BEACH DIET
The South Beach Diet is another low carb / right carb diet. It breaks up the diet into three separate phases. Phase 1 is the most restrictive and cuts out all carbohydrates except those with a very low glycemic index such as such as vegetables. This phase is very tooth friendly and intended to help you lose a lot of weight. Phase 2 lets you re-introduce some of those carbs back into your diet. It recommends only whole grains, fruits, whole wheat pasta, and sweet potatoes. This is moderately tooth friendly. Phase 3 is when you are at a stable weight and are just maintaining. It recommends you make good food choices based on your experiences in the first two phases. You can go back to phase 1 and 2 if you need to lose more weight.
Pros: Cuts out refined carbohydrates for the most part.
Cons: Once you’re at a stable weight, it is far less restrictive and you might start choosing foods that are bad for your teeth again.
Tooth Score 3/5. Depending on what phase you’re in, it can be either good or bad for your teeth.
STANDARD WESTERN DIET
This isn’t so much a “diet” as it is the typical way many people eat today. It started in the United States and has since spread to most other parts of the world. There is a heavy emphasis on refined carbohydrates, meats, and sugary drinks. Fruits and vegetables are usually an afterthought. It is responsible for the skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other diseases. As expected it is terrible for your teeth too.
Tooth Score: 0/5
The TLC diet aims to lower your bad cholesterol levels and be heart healthy. It does this by reducing saturated fats in your diet. On this diet you’ll want to avoid most saturated fats including butter, whole fat dairy, and fatty meats. It also increases the amount of soluble fiber you consume. The recommended foods include fruits, vegetables, fish, skin off lean meats, bread, pasta, and other whole grains.
Pros: It is rated as a good diet for your heart.
Cons: There are a lot of recommended carbs in this diet. If you’re eating fruits, bread, and pasta too frequently you’ll likely develop cavities.
Tooth Score: 2/5
TRADITIONAL ASIAN DIET
This one spans a good variety of different diets prevalent in the area of Asia. Most of them are low fat and include large amounts of rice, vegetables, fruit, and fish. Red meat is very limited.
Pros: It is typically considered a pretty healthy diet.
Cons: Rice, fruit, and noodles can definitely cause cavities, especially if combined with any added sugars.
Tooth Score: 2/5
A vegan diet aims to cut out all animals products. That means no butter, eggs, dairy, cheese, meats, or fish. Most people on a vegan diet eat large amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, pasta, and bread.
Pros: A well done vegan diet (heavy on the vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts can be really healthy).
Cons: It is easy to load up on carbs or sweets while on this diet since you have so many other restrictions.
Tooth Score: 2/5. I recently had a patient who had 15 cavities while eating a vegan diet. She was snacking on potato chips all day which led to the cavities. I’ve seen the same thing with fresh fruit heavy diets. You can make it more teeth healthy by eating more whole grains, limiting the frequency with which you have them (don’t snack on them!), and avoiding added sugars.
The vegetarian diet cuts out all meat products but other animal products such as dairy and eggs are OK for most people. There are a couple of different variations that allow different items. Most people eat a large amount of vegetables, fruits, cheese, nuts, beans, pasta, and bread.
Pros: A well done vegetarian diet can be really healthy.
Cons: As with the vegan diet it is easy to load up on way too many carbs and sugars.
Tooth Score: 2/5. To make this one more teeth healthy avoid eating carbs and extra sugars except at meal times.
The Volumetrics Diet is different than many of the other diets I’ve featured on here. Instead of focusing on food groups or calories, it recommends simply eating high volume, low calorie foods to keep you full without eating excess calories. Examples of these high volume, low calorie foods include fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meat.
Pros: It recommends cutting out refined carbohydrates.
Cons: You can still develop cavities if you are eating a lot of the fruits and grains too frequently.
Tooth Score: 3/5
WEIGHT WATCHERS DIET
Weight Watchers works by using a SmartPoints system. You have a set number of points you can use each day. Foods that are healthy cost very few points while calorie heavy, non-nutritious foods cost a lot of points. No food is banned in this diet. The SmartPoints system aims to get you to eat low calorie and fillings foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean vegetables.
Pros: Most of their “good” foods are pretty healthy for your teeth.
Cons: You can eat small amounts of the “bad” foods on this diet and if you are doing it frequently throughout the day they can still cause cavities.
Tooth Score: 2/5
This diet ends up being a relatively low carbohydrate diet. It allows you 3 meals a day a two snacks. Each meal is supposed to be 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% non-starchy/non-sugary carbohydrates. High sugar fruits and vegetables are discouraged as well as bad fats like red meat and egg yolks. Most meals end up being about 1/4 lean meat, 2/3 good fruits and vegetables, and the rest good fats such as avocados, etc.
Pros: It cuts out most foods that cause cavities.
Cons: Not many from the perspective of your teeth.
Tooth Score: 5/5