Six Soothers for Sore Gums and Strengthening Teeth

Summertime means cool, refreshing treats like ice cream sundaes piled high with cherries and bananas or sorbet slushies that are frothy and spilling off the sides of your glass. Heaven! But too much of that sugary goodness can do some damage to your teeth and gums. My husband Brian has had a lot of problems with his teeth this year. Let’s just say the words “root canal” were mentioned at one point. Blessedly, he didn’t have to go that route. Growing up, I remember my mother would frequently visit the dentist because of sore gums. Red, bleeding, or inflamed gums is usually a telltale sign of gingivitis and periodontitis, which can be associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poor wound healing. Gingivitis is caused by plaque forming on the teeth that then irritates the gums. The longer the plaque sits, the more irritated the gums become. The gums can start bleeding even with gentle brushing. Periodontitis occurs when the untreated gingivitis eventually loosens the tooth from the gums and results in tooth loss. Treatment of periodontitis includes good oral hygiene and professional dental care. I repeat, professional dental care. So if you are suffering from these conditions or other oral care issues, don’t be a hero and sit there with your teeth jacked up–seek out a physician pronto.

According to the World Health Organization, oral disease are the fourth most expensive disease to treat. Risk factors to oral diseases include: smoking, alcohol, behaviors that cause injuries, stress, diet, and dirt (hygiene). Natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin (turmeric) and antimicrobials like tea tree oil can help in treating some periodontal issues. But prevention is key. Start by limiting your consumption of sugars and boosting your intake of fruits and veggies. Okay preach session over.

Other foods I like to add to my arsenal to keep tooth decay at bay are:

Watercress

Watercress is kind of new to my menu. I saw it at the market and decided what the hell, let’s do it. And I’m glad I did. Watercress has a sharp undertone that could easily replace boring lettuce in any sandwich or bring a peppery note to soups and pasta. This Brassicaceae veggie is usually found in cool, running water along the banks of rivers, ditches, and streams (so wash it well because it can have a little dirt y’all). Like its close relatives broccoli and cauliflower, watercress is high in similar nutrients such as vitamins C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, and iodine. It is also rich in the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. Most importantly, watercress is full of isothiocyanates, one of the products of glucosinolates, plant compounds that are known for their cancer-fighting properties. Isothiocyanates activate detoxification enzymes and suppress cancer-promoting enzymes in the body. Some studies have shown that isothiocyanates have reduced the risk of lung cancer and have prevented tumors in other parts of the body such as the liver, pancreas, colon, bladder, and mammary gland (breast). What’s more, it has been reported that watercress supplementation reduced DNA damage that may lead to elevated cancer risk and increased antioxidant concentration of lutein and beta-carotene in adults. In addition, some animal studies suggest that watercress extract may promote the healing of mouth lesions. I like to toss watercress on my pasta for an extra kick of flavor.

Tulsi

By now, you guys have guessed that Mama likes her tea 😉. So I am always looking for any excuse whatsoever to try a new herbal blend. But tulsi is special guys. This adaptogen herb is an antioxidant that contains vitamin A and C, calcium, zinc, and iron. Some animal studies indicate that tulsi may lower blood sugar levels, may promote the healing of keloid and hypertropic scars, and has cardioprotective and gastroprotective effects. Please note that tulsi has also shown antifertility effects as well, so if you have interests in those areas, do abstain. And some evidence suggests that tulsi may exhibit antimicrobial activity against certain types of periodontal bacteria that may cause dental caries. Every now and then, I like to start my morning off with a cup of tulsi to help ease me right into the rigors of the day.

 

Sage

Sage is usually one of my favorite winter spices. I like to add it to my stuffing and really creamy soups like butternut squash or pumpkin. Sage is a strong antioxidant herb that is similar in composition to rosemary because it contains phenolic compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid. But sage drop kicks rosemary in the antioxidant department because it has additional flavonoids and phenolic acids like sagecoumarin that show moderate antioxidant activity. Some studies have shown that sage extract has anti-inflammatory effects that promote the healing of gingivitis.

 

Strawberries

Who doesn’t love strawberries? Strawberries are probably the only berry I remember having as a child because every member of my family loved it compared to other types of berries. I think that strawberry was my favorite flavor too but that might be because I wasn’t used to other flavors. Yep, poor deprived me but I will save that for another time 😊. Anywho, strawberries are a mega star when it comes to vitamin C content and it is also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, A, and E. It contains minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. And while vitamin C deficiency doesn’t cause oral conditions like periodontitis, lack of this nutrient can negatively affect collagen synthesis and wound healing needed to avoid such conditions. For example, regeneration of collagen allows the tooth to remain attached to the gums. So pile on those strawberries! I like to have my berries as the main feature of my breakfast bowl.

 

Green tea

I cannot describe in words my love of green tea. It is my go-to boo, my number one stunner, just everything. #mamalovestea Do not mess with me and my green tea. I have written about the benefits of green tea here. Here’s a short recap: green tea is rich in antioxidants such as catechins, which are polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimutagenic, and antidiabetic properties. Green tea contains vitamins B, C, and E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium. Several studies have shown that green tea is effective in inhibiting the growth of certain periodontal bacteria and treating factors associated with periodontitis such as bleeding and tooth attachment loss. Y’all know that anytime is a green tea time with me, don’t need a reason at all!

 

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the best healing plants around. As a teenager, I remember snipping off part of the aloe vera leaf, then cutting it open and placing it on my red, itchy rash. I still use aloe vera gel on my acne breakouts, dark spots, and even occasionally on my hair. It’s not the miracle plant for nothing, folks. Aloe vera has vitamins A, C, E, B vitamins like folic acid, and choline. It also has minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. What makes aloe vera unique is that it contains 75 active constituents including glycoproteins, polysaccharides, and anthraquinones that, either acting alone or synergistically, may have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and wound-healing effects (when applied topically). Aloe sap and aloe gel are sometimes confused. The gel is the mucilage found within the center of the leaf. The gel contains no anthraquinones, which are responsible for the laxative effect of the plant. Aloe vera’s wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties have been widely reported and extensively studied. There is some evidence that indicates that aloe vera may be effective as a treatment for oral diseases such as gingivitis and oral lichen planus. But results are mixed. Some studies suggest a delay of wound healing, while others show that it promotes wound healing. WTF?! Here’s why: aloe vera gel varies based on the type of aloe and other factors such as climate, region, and processing method. So you won’t know unless you try it for yourself and see if it works. I like this brand when I can’t get the actual leaf.

That’s my list for foods that amp up strong gums and teeth. What works for you?

Four Staples to Improve Eye Health

Here’s a common freelancer and full-timer scenario that has happened to me time and time again: I will read some article until the end on my laptop and decide to read it again for clarity. But on that second go around, I’m squinting like this:

 

 

Eyestrain—it is the mortal enemy of many of us who work on computer screens all day, every day. Maintaining our eye health should be a huge concern for all of us. Some research indicates that a link between certain eye disorders and free radical damage. Antioxidants such as carotenoids help prevent this damage that may lead to conditions such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of severe visual loss in people age 50 and older in the United States. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the carotenoids responsible for preventing those eye disorders. And unfortunately, I hate to break it to you, but carrots are not high in either of these carotenoids ☹(still eat them because they are a good source of beta-carotene). Don’t fret though, many other fruits and vegetables provide these two powerhouse eye nutrients, here are some of the ones that I enjoy eating:

Spinach

When I started my vegan journey three years ago, my green vegetable of choice was spinach. Spinach provided all the nutrients that I was looking for such as vitamins C, E, K, and B9, magnesium and calcium. And spinach is milder in taste for me than other green veggies like kale. But spinach, like many green vegetables, is high in lutein. In fact, it has been reported that 50g of cooked spinach may be sufficient for satisfying the daily recommended requirement for these carotenoids. Please note that spinach contains oxalates and too much oxalates may lead to the development of renal calcium stones. Though I have expanded my palate to other green veggies, I still hold a special place in my heart for spinach. I prefer my raw spinach in a nice side salad.

 

Orange juice

I was raised with orange juice as a constant in my household. I think my Jamaican parents thought it was a mark of being a real American to buy a certain popular brand of orange juice. Every now and then, we would stray and pick up some other fruit juice or two but no matter what, we always picked up orange juice at the market. And now my husband and I maintain that tradition. We all know that orange juice is chock full of antioxidants vitamin C and flavonoids. The juice also contains folate and fortified juices may contain other nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. In addition, orange juice is a great source of provitamin A carotenoids and other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. What else is there to say about orange juice? Have it whenever the mood strikes.

 

Corn tortillas

I know, I know, it is a very odd choice for a list of natural foods to promote eye health. Corn tortillas are usually made by a process referred to as nixtamalization. During nixtamalization, corn is soaked and boiled in water and lime (calcium hydroxide) to form masa. The masa is used to make products like tortillas and tortilla chips. This process is critical in terms of making corn products because it enhances the nutritional value of corn. Nixtamalized corn reduces the phytic acid for better mineral availability and it contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, and niacin. Corn doesn’t have niacin and people who rely on a corn-heavy diet are vulnerable to the disease pellagra. But corn products such as tortillas are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Most of the time I like to use corn tortillas for tacos, however, vegan enchiladas are a great treat too.

 

Cilantro

Cilantro used to be synonymous with fresh guacamole for me. I honestly don’t remember having it any other time beyond that prior to my vegan days. Cilantro can be so much more than that. This herb is great for flavoring curries, noodles, and pesto dishes. Cilantro is an antioxidant herb loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C. It also has vitamin K, thiamine, zinc, and fiber. Some studies suggest that cilantro may be an effective treatment for lowering blood sugar levels and relieving gastrointestinal conditions. What’s more, it is wonderful for great eye health because it is high in lutein. Sometimes simple is best when it comes to an ingredient like cilantro and use a few sprigs to brighten up a rice dish like this one.

So those are some of the foods I use to boost my eye health. What works for you?