The anatomy of a better burger

It’s springtime, which means that temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming — and it’s time to start grilling. And where better to start than with that venerable backyard favorite, the hamburger? 

Unfortunately, while it’s 100% delicious, the classic burger isn’t entirely great for your dental health. But good news: by choosing certain ingredients and avoiding others, you can create a burger that minimizes damage while it maximizes delicious. Let’s break down the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to a smile-friendly burger.

The good:


Meat can — wait for it — beef up your oral health. Not only is ground beef a great source of protein, it’s also high in iron and vitamin B12, which can help fend off mouth ulcers. Better still, beef from grass-fed cows may have even greater health benefits than standard beef, including much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which research from Harvard University suggests might prevent gum disease.

But fear not if you’re on a plant-based diet. Veggie burgers that contain vegetables, whole grains or beans can also help maintain oral health.


It’s said that cheese makes everything better, and this smile-friendly burger is no exception. Cheese can help build dental enamel. It’s also a great source of calcium and phosphate, which help prevent cavities. And as a dairy product, cheese helps neutralize the acids that can damage your teeth. 


While they might not do your eyes or breath any favors, a study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research found that that raw onions can reduce the bacteria that causes cavities and gum disease. 

The bad:


Seeded or plain, toasted or not, a good bun can take your burger to the next level. Unfortunately, it can also ramp up damage to your teeth and gums. As the bun breaks down, the simple sugars that stick to your teeth provide a feast for bacteria, which then produce acids that can damage your tooth enamel, decay your teeth and promote gum disease.

A great option is to avoid the bun entirely. Wrapping your burger with lettuce not only eliminates the sticky sugars, it adds calcium, folic acid and vitamin B, all of which are great for your oral health. It also gives your hot burger a cool, refreshing crunch. If you must have the bun, a whole-wheat version contains more healthy fiber and less damaging sugar than the standard version.


Pickles and tomatoes contribute some great flavor, texture and balance to your burger. But they also contribute something else that’s not so great: acid. While incorporating them into your burger rather than eating them on the side helps neutralize some of this acid, your best bet is to avoid them. Choose instead a crunchy, flavorful green such as spinach or kale. Both are low in acid and off the charts in terms of vitamins and minerals. 

The ugly:


Certainly, a burger without ketchup is like a day without sunshine. Unfortunately, ketchup, along with other condiments such as mustard and barbecue sauce, are loaded with teeth-damaging sugars and acids. And because it contains vinegar, mayonnaise doesn’t get a pass, either.

So, what to do? Your best option is to just say no. But if you can’t bear the thought of burger without condiments — and who could blame you? — adding a slice or two of cheese to your burger will help to neutralize their damaging effects.

One of life’s greatest simple pleasures is enjoying a hot, juicy burger on a warm spring day. So fire up the grill and get started! Just remember that by choosing your ingredients wisely, you can create a burger that both you and your smile will love.