Most people know all too well that what they eat affects their general health, but did you realize diet significantly impacts your oral health? Without the proper nutrients, your oral tissues cannot fight infection and inflammation adequately and are less able to heal and repair themselves. When you eat healthily, these foods help to protect your teeth and oral tissues, and the benefits extend to your general health. A healthy mouth will protect your overall health because you need strong and healthy teeth to bite and chew food properly, and the process of digestion begins in your mouth as your saliva contains digestive enzymes.
Also, if your gums cannot fight infection adequately, your risk of gum disease1 is higher. Gum disease or periodontal disease is a severe gum infection that can cause substantial inflammation in the gums and eventually tooth loss. In the worst case, it may affect general health. As the disease progresses, it weakens the gums allowing infectious bacteria to enter the bloodstream. From there, these bacteria can travel anywhere in the body creating new sites of inflammation. Periodontal disease has been linked to many serious health conditions, so it’s vital to maintain strong and healthy gums.
Using Foods to Strengthen and Protect Your Teeth
It’s crucial to make sure your diet is well-balanced and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals which will help to strengthen and protect your teeth. One of the most important is calcium.
You need calcium for healthy teeth and strong bones, but calcium is also required for many bodily processes, including muscle movement. If your diet doesn’t contain enough calcium, your body will use the calcium in your bones, decreasing the calcium available for your teeth. Phosphorus is another essential mineral, and it’s one of the main building blocks of tooth enamel.
Calcium and Phosphorus-Rich Foods
Good sources of calcium include cheese and eating it helps to increase the pH levels in the mouth, decreasing acidity and lowering your risk of tooth decay. Also, chewing cheese helps to promote saliva production. Saliva is naturally protective, washing away excess food, bacteria and helping to maintain a fresh, clean and neutral environment. Yogurt is another good source of calcium, and especially if you choose yogurt with probiotics or beneficial bacteria which will also help your gum health. Just be sure to pick plain yogurt as some fruit yogurts are very high in sugars. Your mom probably told you to eat your greens, and she was right! Leafy greens are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and greens like spinach and kale are high in calcium and folic acid, a type of vitamin B that helps gum health. Foods that are high in phosphorus include fish, red meat and eggs, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and broth.
Get Your Vitamins
Vitamin-rich foods are also crucial for dental health, particularly those containing vitamins A and C. These two vitamins contain vital antioxidants that help to boost gum health. Vitamin C is found in numerous fruits, and celery and carrots are excellent sources of vitamin A. Eating a variety of fresh fruits and veggies each day should help provide all the vitamins you need, protecting your teeth and gums and boosting your overall health. Firm, crunchy fruits and vegetables are especially good for your teeth because they contain lots of water and are high in fiber. Chewing these foods helps to stimulate saliva production, neutralizing the bacteria that cause cavities, while the high fiber content helps to slightly scrub teeth surfaces, removing some food particles and plaque, although, of course, it’s no substitute for brushing and flossing!
A well-balanced diet should include 5 to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, lean proteins, dairy products, whole grains and legumes, and nuts such as almonds can be a great source of protein and calcium. Your food choices also affect your risk of cavities.
Diet and Its Connection to Tooth Decay
Most people know that sugary foods can cause cavities, but the connection is a bit more complicated. Understanding the process will help you to make healthier choices, for yourself and for your family.
Strong and healthy teeth are protected with tooth enamel which is the hardest substance in the human body. Tooth enamel protects the innermost part of the tooth from infectious bacteria in the mouth. When tooth enamel is eroded, these bacteria can soon penetrate the inner part of the tooth, causing a cavity and eventually toothache as they reach the dental pulp. The dental pulp is right in the center of the tooth, and it houses the tooth nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissues. An infected pulp is extremely painful, and root canal therapy is needed to save the tooth.
Tooth enamel can become eroded when it is exposed to acid created by disease-causing bacteria. Every time you eat something sugary or carbohydrate-rich, these bacteria will thrive, using this food as their own energy source, creating acid as a by-product. The acid will soften tooth enamel and over time will gradually erode it. After eating, your mouth remains more acidic for half an hour to an hour afterward. Obviously, it is sensible not to eat too many sugary foods, but timing matters too! If you do want a sweet treat, enjoy it as part of a main meal when your mouth is already acidic. Make sure you wait at least half an hour before brushing your teeth after eating because this gives the tooth enamel a chance to re-harden, decreasing the damage to your pearly whites.
Choosing Healthier and Tooth Friendly Snacks
If you do want a snack in between meals, it is better to avoid sugary foods that will only give you a quick burst of energy. Instead, choose fruit and raw vegetables, cheese and plain yogurt, or munch on nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
A good diet can do a lot to help protect your dental health, but you still need a good oral hygiene routine at home, and it’s crucial to come and see us here at Ivory Dental regularly2. Our dentist, Dr. Benjamin Hull can monitor your oral health, so any slight changes can be detected more quickly and treated more efficiently. Also, if we think your diet may be adversely affecting your oral health, we can always offer practical advice on how to improve it. Sometimes, making small but realistic changes to your diet or even the times you eat certain foods can make all the difference.