Does What You Eat Effect Your Dental Health?

added on: May 31, 2013

Everyone knows that a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to healthy living. But eating patterns and food choices play an important role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease.

Good Dental Health Habits

You may eat with your eyes first, but your mouth, teeth, and gums are more than just tools for eating. They’re essential for chewing and swallowing and are the first steps in the digestion process.

Your mouth is your body’s initial point of contact with the nutrients you consume. Therefore, what you put in your mouth impacts not only your general health but also that of your teeth and gums. In fact, if your nutrition is poor, the first signs often show up in your oral health.

Your individual nutrition and calorie needs depend on your age, gender, level of physical activity and other health factors, but according to most dieticians and nutritionists, a balanced and healthy diet should include:

  • Fruits and vegetables: combined, these should cover half your plate at meals
  • Grains: at least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice
  • Dairy: choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods most often
  • Protein: lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish. Vary your protein choices to also include eggs, beans, peas and legumes.

In addition to diet, it’s also important to stay active for good health. Adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity every week.

Diet and Tooth Decay

The foods you eat and the beverages you drink can have a direct influence on the incidence and progression of tooth decay, depending upon:

  • The form of the food—whether it’s liquid, solid, sticky or slow to dissolve makes a difference
  • How often you eat sugary foods and beverages and how often you eat or drink acidic foods and beverages
  • The nutritional makeup of the food
  • The combination of the foods you eat and the order in which you eat them
  • Medical conditions you may have, such as gastrointestinal reflux and eating disorders, which can increase risk of cavities and weaken teeth

The bacteria in your mouth use carbohydrates for food, so when you cut back on sugar, and other sources of simple carbohydrates that are easily fermentable, you reduce your cavity risk. Limit added sugars in your diet by reading food labels to determine the amount of added sugar in a food. Since ingredients are listed on the label in order of weight, from most to least, if one of the following terms is listed as one of the first few ingredients, it’s a good bet that food is high in sugar. Another tip for spotting sources of sugar—terms ending in “-ose” indicate a sugar ingredient.

Top Sources of Added Sugar in the Diet and Percentages

  • soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, 35.7%
  • grain-based desserts (cakes, pies) 12.9%
  • fruit drinks 10.5%
  • dairy-based desserts (ice cream) 6.5%
  • candy 6.1%
  • ready-to-eat cereals 3.8%
  • sugars and honey 3.5%
  • tea (sweetened) 3.5%
  • yeast breads 2.1%

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

Diet and Gum Disease

Systemic nutrition may also play a pivotal role in oral diseases such as periodontal disease and oral infections. Periodontal disease results from bacterial infection of the gums. Initially, the gums become swollen, red, and puffy and bleed readily. As the infection progresses, the tooth-supporting bone can recede, causing the tooth to become loose. Although nutritional factors do not necessarily cause gum disease, they can play an important role in its prevention, initiation, progression, severity, and response to treatment. Malnutrition can make gum disease worse by reducing resistance, undermining tissue repair, and allowing inflammation and periodontal tissue destruction. Dietary factors such as deficiencies in calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D are associated with alveolar bone loss as well as long bone osteoporosis and can contribute to tooth mobility and eventual tooth loss.

When we see decay and gum disease in your mouth, one of the issues we will discuss with you is your diet. Our goal is to give you as much control of your own dental health as possible. Have more questions about nutrition and your dental health, contact us and we’ll be happy to set you up with a consultation with Dr. John.