Oral health is very important. While that sentence may seem like something that should be common knowledge, sometimes better oral hygiene is not taken as seriously as it should be. When this happens, dental disorders, and dental health issues, can take place. As such, this is why when it comes to the dentist, healthy oral hygiene should not just be assessed, whenever one has a cavity. Instead, people should visit the dentist yearly, so that they can assess the health of their teeth, gums, etc.
Sometimes people can have issues with an overbite or crossbite. As such, what should be done is an assessment of the teeth and gums at the dentist. This will aid in a plan to help fix crossbite if one is dealing with such issues. In the end, dentists are there to help individuals, but they are also there, to ensure that the oral health of people is staying up to date as well. This is one of the benefits of visiting the dentist.
According to a recent survey, 80% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 would like to have whiter teeth. But when most people think about oral health and dental care, they’re usually thinking about external treatments to their teeth: cleanings, whitening treatments, and other externally-applied treatments. For too many people, the idea of food and oral health being related doesn’t come up that often.
That’s a shame, because the connection between food and oral health is very real, and very important. Your mouth, teeth, and gums are more than simply tools for chewing and swallowing: they’re the first point of contact between your body and the nutrients you consume, so your diet doesn’t just affect your body’s weight and wellbeing. It has a big impact on the health of your teeth and gums, too.
If you’re unsure about the way food and oral health are related, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out how what you eat relates to oral care and wellness.
Diet Guidelines for Overall Health
If you’ve done much studying on health and wellness for different parts of the body, you’ve probably noticed that what’s good for one part of the body is usually good for the entire body. The same recommendations dermatologists give for healthy skin frequently overlap with the recommendations given by dentists for healthy teeth, and so on. While particular treatments may benefit only one area, such as fluoride therapy for your teeth, when it comes to general health, the same advice usually applies everywhere.
As an example of this, the following are some general guidelines that should be followed for good food and oral health.
- Fruits and vegetables: While not the most popular food category, they’re widely considered the most important. Together, they should cover about half of your plate at meals.
- Grains: These are your breads, pastas, and most baked goods. At least half of all your grains should be whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread.
- Dairy: For dairy products, doctors typically recommend choosing low-fat or fat-free options.
- Protein: While protein can come from lots of places, it’s most commonly associated with beef, poultry, fish, and eggs. Protein is important, but you should try to get it from less familiar sources like peas and legumes, as well as popular choices like lean beef. You should try for at least eight ounces of seafood each week.
As all dental services will tell you, diet is incredibly important, but it’s not the only aspect of good health. Try to keep up an active lifestyle, with at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week. The significance of food and oral health isn’t always obvious, but generally what’s good for your body is also good for your mouth.
How Your Diet Can Cause Tooth Decay
As we’ve discussed, your general nutrition is an important part of good oral health. But since your teeth and gums come into direct contact with your food, there are naturally some additional considerations to have regarding what you eat, besides nutritional content.
Depending on things like how often you eat and the consistency of most foods you consume, you may be more at risk of experiencing tooth decay. The factors involved include the following:
- The form of the food — whether it’s liquid or solid, sticky or slow to dissolve, makes a big difference.
- How frequently you eat and drink foods and beverages that are sugary or acidic.
- The general nutritional makeup of your food.
- The combination of foods you eat and what order you eat them in.
- Preexisting medical conditions, such as eating disorders or gastrointestinal reflux, which can weaken teeth and put you at a higher risk of tooth decay.
When it comes to food and oral health, snacking throughout the day is typically a big warning sign. While some foods are worse for your teeth than others (for example, sticky or sugary foods tend to cling to teeth and cause decay), simply exposing your teeth to more food throughout the day puts you at a higher risk of developing cavities. Furthermore, most snack foods are not healthy in general, so unless you go out of your way to eat things like nuts or carrot sticks, you’re probably snacking on mostly sugars and processed grains. Even some seemingly healthy snacks, such as dried fruit, can leave a sticky, decaying residue on your teeth after eating.
For this reason, you should limit snacking between meals. Whenever you do eat, try to brush your teeth shortly afterward, especially if you ate something sugary or sticky.
Specific Foods That Are Bad for Oral Health
Even the healthiest foods can cause tooth decay if residue is left on your teeth for long enough. That’s why you should brush and floss your teeth every day. But some foods are worse for your teeth than others, regardless of how regularly you brush.
Empty calorie foods such as candy, cookies, cakes, muffins, and snack foods like potato chips are particularly cause for dental concern. Hard and sticky candies like lollipops, mints, caramels, and taffy are especially notorious for sticking between teeth and feeding decay-inducing bacteria. Not only do sweets and snacks like these offer little if any nutritional value, but the amounts and types of sugar contained in them adheres stubbornly to teeth. The bacteria in your mouth love to feed on these types of sugars, which causes them to release acids that often result in cavities.
Drinks that contain sugar, such as lemonade, fruit juice, soda, and sweetened tea or coffee, are especially harmful. When you’re drinking a hot or cold beverage, you probably don’t consume it all at once, like you would a muffin or piece of candy. Instead, you most likely sip it slowly. This means your teeth and gums are experiencing a constant “sugar bath” as the drink flows over them repeatedly. Sugary and acidic drinks are both known for causing tooth decay because of this.
Although it may be feeling like cruel or unusual punishment to have to limit your sugary snack intake, avoiding these drinks and foods will improve your oral health, leave you with a healthier smile, and you won’t need to pay the price of a bail bond for your sacrifice.
While you probably already knew that sugary foods and drinks aren’t very good for you, the list of foods that damage teeth extends all the way to what are usually considered healthy foods. We mentioned that dried fruit like raisins, while nutritious, nonetheless contains sticky sugars, and these get stuck on teeth. Try to eat fresh fruits instead of dried ones when you can.
Even tomatoes and citrus fruits can harm your teeth, simply because they’re highly acidic. This doesn’t mean you must avoid all of these normally-healthy foods, of course. Just try to only eat them as part of a meal, and not by themselves, so the less harmful foods clear away the residue left from the acidic and sticky ones.
Specific Foods That Benefit Dental Health
After reading this article so far, it may start to seem like food and oral health are always opposed. But don’t worry, because there are actually some foods that are beneficial to your teeth, gums, and mouth.
Milk, cheese, plain yogurt, tofu, almonds, and leafy greens may have a beneficial effect on tooth health because of the many nutrients, including calcium, that they provide.
Calcium and phosphorus are two of the most important minerals to dental health. Phosphorus-rich foods are typically foods that are high in protein, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk. Phosphorus and calcium work together to protect and rebuild tooth enamel, which is your teeth’s only line of defense against decay.
As you might have guessed, fruits and vegetables are great choices for maintaining a healthy smile. But it’s not just because of their nutritional value: it’s because they’re high in fiber and water, which helps clean your teeth and acts to balance out the natural sugars they contain. Vegetables and fruits also stimulate saliva production, which is like your body’s natural mouthwash, cleaning your teeth and neutralizing acid to prevent decay. Additionally, many contain vitamin C, which is good for your gums, and vitamin A, which is essential for rebuilding tooth enamel.
As for what to drink for healthy teeth, water is always the best choice. If you find it hard to remember to drink plenty of water, your local plumbing company could help by installing a water filter next to your kitchen sink. Simple home upgrades like this can incentive healthier choices.
Having clean, healthy water on tap is always more convenient than having to buy it from the store. If the tap water in your home isn’t safe for drinking, you should consider hiring a local water treatment service to install the equipment necessary to make your water drinkable.
Many dentists still recommend fluoridated water, toothpaste, and mouth wash, as fluoride is thought to further protect teeth from cavities. However, this has become controversial in recent years as some experts suggest fluoride may do more harm than good, with even some dentists questioning whether it’s really necessary. When it comes to heavily contested recommendations like this, it’s a good idea to do your research and decide what you’re most comfortable with. A good water filtration system can help remove fluoride from city water if that’s the choice you make.
Sugar in Food and Oral Health
In America especially, sugar can be found in almost everything, often in astonishing amounts. Whereas the amount of sugar allowed to be used in food products is heavily regulated in some countries, in the United States, food companies get away with adding obscene amounts to their products to make them more addictive. As a result, sugar is a particularly important issue to dentists and dietitians.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, people over three years old shouldn’t consume more than 12 and one-half teaspoons of added sugar per day (or 50 grams). For context, that’s roughly the same amount you’ll find in a can of Coke. Additionally, sugar should account for no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
The reason added sugar is so important to food and oral health is that the bacteria in your mouth use carbohydrates for food. By consuming large amounts of sugar, you’re essentially allowing that bacteria to gorge themselves, so they multiply faster and cause more damage to your tooth enamel. By cutting back on the amount of sugar in your diet, you can substantially reduce your risk of developing cavities.
To limit the amount of added sugars you consume, make a habit of reading food labels on products you buy to find out how much sugar they contain. Ingredients on food labels are listed in order of weight, so if a kind of sugar is listed at the very beginning, you know that a substantial portion of the product is all sugar. The following are types of sugars you should look out for:
- Cane sugar
- Brown sugar
- Powdered sugar, or confectioner’s sugar
- Raw sugar
- Crystallized cane sugar
- Turbinado sugar
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn sweeteners
- Maple syrup
- Malt syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Invert sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
If that looks like a lot, it’s because it is. While some of these sugars are technically healthier than others, they can all wreak havoc on your teeth if you consume a lot of them. Be especially wary of drinks with high amounts of sugar, since liquids typically end up spending more time on your teeth than solid food does. On that note, the following are food products most likely to contain significant amounts of sugar:
- Sodas and energy drinks (made up of 35.7% sugar)
- Grain-based desserts like cakes and cookies (12.9% sugar)
- Fruit drinks (10.5%)
- Dairy-based desserts like ice cream (6.5%)
- Candy (6.1%)
- Cold cereals (3.8%)
- Sugars and honey (3.5%)
You don’t have to avoid these foods all the time to keep your mouth healthy, but you should avoid consuming them in excess. Try to restrict them to special occasions, and remember to drink lots of water instead of juices, sodas, or energy drinks. Your general dentistry practitioner will approve of your efforts!
A Word on Sugar Substitutes
There are lots of alternative sweeteners that taste and even look like sugar, but don’t have the same detrimental effects on your teeth. These can include substances like aspartame, erythritol, sucralose, and more, although you’re more likely to recognize their brand names, such as Splenda, Equal, and Sunett.
While these sugar substitutes tend to have fewer calories and don’t produce as much decay-causing acids in your mouth, you shouldn’t think of them as “magic bullets” that make things sweet without repercussion. You should still practice moderation, and remember that just because a substance isn’t technically sugar doesn’t always mean it’s healthy. As you research ways to make your food and oral health more aligned, you might prefer options considered by some people to be more “natural,” such as stevia or monk fruit powder.
As you can see, food and oral health actually have a lot to do with one another. By now you should have a basic understanding of how to craft your diet so you can enjoy stronger, healthier teeth and gums, without sacrificing all the foods you enjoy.