You've probably heard about the connection between bones and calcium since you were a child. "Drink your milk," your mother would urge. "It'll help keep your bones strong."
While teeth seem like bones, they have key differences that make them something else entirely. Still, calcium is one of the most important nutrients to help keep your teeth healthy. The following foods contain calcium and may help keep your teeth — and your bones — healthy as you age.
Teeth vs. Bones
While they're both hard and white, teeth and bones are made up of different materials. Teeth are made up of calcium, phosphorous and other minerals that give them their hard enamel shell. Bones, while they also contain calcium, only use calcium as the filler material between their main material — protein collagen. It's this regenerative collagen that allows bones to heal themselves after a break or fracture. Because teeth don't regenerate, they can't heal themselves if broken. What's more, bones produce their own white and red blood cells, while teeth receive their blood supply via the arteries in your body.
Because teeth are made of hard enamel, they're actually much stronger than bones. According to a report in the Journal of Dental Biomechanics, enamel is even harder than bones.
Calcium and Teeth
While it's true that teeth are covered in tough enamel, that doesn't mean they're invincible. Even though teeth can't regenerate, you can strengthen them by replacing the calcium lost through factors like age and overuse.
The American Dental Association advises that the average adult consume between 1,000 and 2,000 mg of calcium on a daily basis to maintain optimum tooth and enamel health. Consuming a diet high in calcium helps to fortify enamel, so teeth are less likely to break. Also, consider brushing with a toothpaste like Colgate Enamel Health Multi-Protection, which helps strengthen enamel and replenish natural calcium.
There are, of course, the usual suspects when it comes to increasing your calcium intake for stronger teeth. Dairy products are high in calcium and easily available, so simply adding a cup of yogurt, a few cubes of cheese or an 8 ounce glass of milk can help you reach your calcium goals. Additionally, the following foods contain calcium and might be a surprising way to help strengthen enamel:
- Leafy greens. Leafy green vegetables, such as cooked spinach (about 250 mg calcium per cup) and collard greens (around 350 mg per cup) are a great way to boost your calcium intake. Make a salad, throw them in a smoothie or add them as a side dish.
- Canned fish. Canned fish offers a way for you to consume fish bones, which are high in calcium, without even noticing the crunch. The canning process leaves them soft, so you can mash them into a delicious spread for crackers.
- Fortified cereals. Whether you eat it dry, add soy milk or eat it with regular dairy milk, fortified breakfast cereal can help you meet your daily calcium goals almost as soon as you get up in the morning. Look for cereals that specifically advertise more calcium or that contain almonds — another great source of calcium.
- Tofu. According to the PennState Extension Service, just a half cup of tofu contains 253 mg of calcium, making it a great addition to soups, stews, chili and other meatless dishes. Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking, so it's an easy, healthy swap.
- Calcium-fortified orange juice. You might have heard that acidic foods are bad for teeth enamel. If you can't stand to go without your morning OJ, switch to a brand with added calcium, which can fulfill your daily requirements with just one glass.
While it's true that teeth aren't bones, their hard enamel surface can benefit from the same care that bones do. Whether you snack on dairy products or look for ways to add calcium to your diet via other methods, your Mom was right when she told you that calcium keeps your bones — and your teeth — healthy.