kabobs on the grill cooking

Are grilled foods good for your teeth?

If you like to add a little sizzle to your summer, you’ve probably already cooked some mouth-watering foods on your grill this season. But don’t forget to keep your smile in mind. Here are some foods to get fired up about grilling — and a few to avoid putting on your cookout menu — to maintain good oral health. 

Meats and plant-based alternatives can benefit your teeth

Because they’re rich in protein and a great source of phosphorous, meats help build and maintain strong teeth. Meat also requires a lot of chewing that produces saliva to help wash away food particles and acids that can cause tooth decay. For the healthiest choices, look for lean cuts of red meat, fish and skinless poultry.

As an alternative, plant-based burgers have made a rise in popularity, beyond what many people thought was possible. Even fast food restaurants have started serving them. Because many plant-based meat alternatives contain as much protein as a beef burger, they can also benefit your oral health.


Limit sugar and acidic ingredients in sauces, marinades and dry rubs

While the meat and meat alternatives you grill are generally good for your oral health, be careful about how you enhance the flavor. Meat itself is low in sugar, but most barbecue sauces are surprisingly high in cavity-causing sugar. And marinades can cause tooth erosion because they are usually highly acidic due to ingredients like vinegar, citrus juices and wine that are used to tenderize meat.

To avoid acids and added sugars, try grill recipes that flavor your meat with a dry rub to create a delicious coating on food when it’s grilled. As long as you don’t add sugar, these mixtures of herbs and spices have none of the dental dangers of sauces and marinades — and offer just as much flavor.

Don't forget to add grilled produce to the menu

Many tooth-friendly vegetables are delicious grilled, including asparagus, zucchini, onions and carrots. You can get even more healthy vegetables by topping your burger with leafy greens, like spinach, kale and lettuce, to get more tooth-strengthening calcium into your diet. Crunchy lettuce also increases the flow of teeth-cleaning saliva.

Of course, corn on the cob is a summer grilling favorite. However, eating it can damage fillings, sealants and braces. And it gets stuck in teeth. If corn is on your menu, try cutting it off the cob.

Vegetables aren’t the only produce that are tasty when grilled. Many varieties of tooth-friendly fruits like apples and pears are delicious grilled because their natural sugars caramelize for extra sweetness when they’re heated. 

Add-on these in moderation

Go ahead and add a slice of cheese to your burger. It's high in calcium and phosphorus to strengthen and protect tooth enamel. 

However, proceed cautiously with these:

  • Ketchup, like barbecue sauce, is high in sugar. Use it only in moderation.
  • Pickles and tomatoes are acidic. Eat them as part of a meal, rather than as a snack.
  • Buns usually contain sugar. If you use them, choose whole wheat for more fiber and lower sugar. Go for a seedless variety so seeds don’t get stuck in your teeth.


Keep this guide in mind when you shop for your next backyard barbecue to help keep your smile healthy.