Teeth are meant to last a lifetime – often, they do not. The phrase “you are what you eat” is very evident by looking into a person’s oral health.
Nutrition plays the leading role in defining the health of a person. And, oral health is intimately connected to a person’s general health. Periodontal disease can cause many health issues – among them are: cardiovascular disease, COPD, uncontrolled diabetes and arthritis, to name a few. In the elderly population, deficits in micronutrients are very prevalent. Evidence of this is manifested in their poor immune systems, which pre-disposes them to cumulative disease. Water is the number one nutrient needed by the body. Research in our state of Michigan, including the cities of Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, indicated that fluoridation of the water supply reduced dental cavities in children by 50 percent.
Sugary, sticky, foods tend to coat the teeth and along with bacteria in the mouth, they form “plaque” – the number one causative agent for tooth decay and gum disease. The bacteria in the plaque feed on the carbohydrates, releasing acids which, in turn, melt the enamel and cause tooth decay. When plaque forms under the gum line, the result is periodontal disease.
To maintain good oral health, foods that are refined and highly processed are to be avoided. Foods such as sour candies, bread, chips, fried foods, or foods with a sticky and tacky consistency can be the biggest culprits. Soda pop is a triple threat to the dentition, as they not only stain the teeth but they cause cavities and periodontal disease. Some of the detrimental effects of pop consumption are seen in what (in the field of dentistry) is called “Mountain Dew Mouth,” which mimics the devastation of the teeth caused by abusing methamphetamines. Diet beverages do not contain sugar; however, they are still acidic and prolonged consumption can melt the enamel. Beverages are regularly served with ice, and ice-chewing is a common habit that results in chipping and cracking of tooth enamel. Drinking chilled beverages is a safer option.
To maintain good oral health, foods that are refined and highly processed are to be avoided.
Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking also cause “dry mouth” that allows plaque to accumulate more rapidly, causing more destruction of the teeth and gums. Citrus juices like grapefruit, lemon and orange are very acidic and erode the enamel, making teeth more vulnerable to decay. Even adding lemon to water can add acid that can harm the teeth. When consuming these beverages with a meal, rinsing the mouth soon after with water is recommended. It’s the long-term sipping of these drinks that is the most detrimental to the teeth. Drinking through a straw bypassing the teeth is also recommended, especially for those with sensitive teeth. Potato chips are a favorite snack – being mainly starch, they break down into sugar and feed the bacteria in the mouth to produce acids. This acid production lingers and lasts awhile, proving more harmful even after consumption of the snack has stopped. Dried fruits, although a healthy snack, tend to cling to crevices and grooves in the teeth, producing acid and deepening the already existent decay. Choose fresh fruits, instead, or rinse with water and then floss after eating starchy or sticky snacks.
A diet of nutritionally dense foods is recommended. Foods such as leafy, green vegetables, nuts, seeds, aged cheese, plain yogurt, meats, beans, mushrooms, fish, eggs and organic meats are examples of these. Raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables help cleanse the teeth, like eating an apple after lunch. Consuming probiotics populates healthy bacteria in the mouth, and cranberries and plant foods rich in anthocyanins prevent the plaque from sticking to the teeth. Chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, pine bark or sap (pycnogenol) decreases plaque formation and helps bleeding gums. Eating soy also has a similar benefit. Some of the nutrients that are absolutely necessary for tooth health are: protein, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, antioxidants, folate, iron, vitamins A, C, D, B and omega 3 fats. Arginine alters the acidity of the mouth and makes it healthier. CoQ10 is a nutrient found in every cell of the body that produces energy needed for cell growth and maintenance; CoQ10 deficiency can negatively affect periodontal disease. Echinacea, garlic, ginger and ginseng inhibit bacterial growth.
Beverages also can be beneficial or harmful to oral health. For example, water and green tea enhance the general health of a being. Green tea reduces bacteria and its toxic products in the mouth, whereas highly-sweetened soda or energy drinks are a threat to the teeth.
Eat mostly lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits, and avoid processed foods. Disease of the teeth and gums can be prevented by brushing and flossing twice daily and regularly visiting the dentist every six months.