Good nutrition plays a big part in maintaining healthy teeth. In turn, sound and healthy teeth contribute to an increased quality of life.
All about acid
An acid is produced when plaque, which contains acid-forming bacteria, forms on the teeth and combines with sticky starches and sugars which are found in a lot of foods. This acid is powerful enough to dissolve the hardest substance in the human body-- the tooth’s enamel. According to the American Dental Association, this acid attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more. After multiple attacks, the teeth can decay.
Extrinsic acids come from fruits, fruit juices, soft drinks (both carbonated and still), some herbal teas, dry wines and vinegar-containing foods. These acids are strong enough to cause erosion of the enamel. Intrinsic acids (from vomiting and regurgitation) can also cause erosion. If one suffers from acid reflux or an eating disorder like bulimia, their tooth enamel will be worn away in time, if the condition is not controlled effectively.
Let’s talk about sugar
Both natural and refined sugars can cause equal harm. In fact, some ingredients in many “sugarless” foods are immediately converted to sugars and are just as dangerous as eating sugar directly.
Studies have shown that high-starch/low-sugar diets generally have low levels tooth decay. Low-starch/high-sugar diets generally have high levels of tooth decay. Processed starchy foods, substantial amounts of sucrose and free sugars found in everyday foods such as corn snacks, sweetened breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits, can also increase the decay potential.
To protect teeth from tooth decay, look for less-refined starchy foods such as wholegrain foods. Foods that require a lot of chewing stimulate salivary flow and saliva protects the teeth by neutralizing the acid and inhibiting the harmful bacteria.
“Teeth-smart” snacks for everyone include fruits containing water (think: apples, grapes, pears, cantaloupes and other melons), vegetables like raw broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers and celery, and aged cheeses such as Swiss, cheddar or Monterey Jack.
Milk lactose and fruit juice contain sugars that support decay. The practice of putting a toddler to bed with a bottle of milk or fruit juice has caused the most devastating forms of tooth decay, called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries, in infants and toddlers.
Other things to watch for
Malnutrition reduces immunity and also impairs the disease-fighting-defenses of the host. If someone is suffering from this, it can intensify the severity of oral infections and this may lead to their evolution into life-threatening diseases.
A lack of Vitamin C causes Scurvy which is characterized by spongy and bleeding gums. To prevent Scurvy, increase intake of Vitamin C in the diet. Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons are rich in Vitamin C. Fruits such as blackcurrants, guava, kiwifruit, papaya, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, spinach and paprika also have a high content of Vitamin C. Scurvy, however, is rare in modern times.
For infants and toddlers:
- Do not dip the baby's pacifier in sugar or honey before giving it to your baby.
- After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
- For children with erupting teeth, brush them gently with a child’s size toothbrush and water.
- Brush your child’s teeth until they are capable of brushing effectively on their own.
- Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
- Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed. Discourage frequent or prolonged use of a training (sippy) cup.
- Encourage healthy eating habits that include a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
- Serve nutritious snacks and limit sweets to mealtimes.
- Ensure that your child has adequate exposure to fluoride. Discuss your child’s fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician.
For older children, adolescents and adults:
- No matter what your diet is, healthy or “needs slight or a lot of improvement”, you should always brush and floss your pearls. The longer you leave food in your mouth, the the higher your risk of getting cavities.
- Get into the habit of brushing and flossing after meals, in the morning and night. Salivary flow decreases during sleep, so lack of brushing and flossing causes the food to be retained there for longer, increasing the incidence of cavities.
- Adjunct oral hygiene practices involve rinsing with water and/or fluoride mouthwashes, using a Waterpik® or a rubber tip stimulator, biotene rinse (for dry mouth) etc.
According to the American Dental Association, “Community water fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay.
If you, or a family member, are at a moderate-to-high risk of developing caries, a professional fluoride treatment can help. The fluoride preparation used in the dental office is a much stronger concentration than that in toothpastes or fluoride mouth rinses that may be available in a store or at a pharmacy.” Fluoride treatment in the dental office (varnish, foam, solution, gel) is extra protection for your teeth.
Go for regular dental check-ups as recommended by your dentist. Make sure you get your dental problems treated and corrected.
Take excellent care of your pearls and they will keep you smiling for life!
- American Dental Association
- “Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases” - Paula Moynihan and Paul Erik Petersen (Public Health Nutrition: 7(1A), 201-226 )
- “School Lunches for Healthy Teeth” - Tammy Davenport (About.com)