Healthy eating habits are important for oral health. The foods we choose and how often we eat them can affect our general health and oral health. Consuming sugary sodas, sweetened fruit drinks or non-nutritious snacks often increases the risk of cavities. Additionally, a diet lacking certain nutrients may make it more difficult for tissues in the mouth to resist infection, contributing to gum disease.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth comes into contact with sugar or simple carbohydrates, causing the bacteria to produce acid which wears away the teeth. This “acid attack” can last for 20-40 minutes after eating. Saliva helps to restore the pH of the mouth after eating. Frequent snacking prolongs the duration of acid production thus leading to an increased risk for cavities. Limiting snacking to 3 times per day and choosing healthy snacks will help to reduce the risk of cavities.
Non-nutritious foods such as candy, cookies, cakes, muffins, and chips are cause for dental concern. These foods offer little to no nutritional value, and the amount and type of sugar that they contain adheres to teeth increasing acid production and therefore increasing the risk of cavities. Additionally, drinks such as soda, lemonade, juice and sweetened coffee or tea are particularly harmful because sipping them causes a constant sugar exposure to teeth and prolonging the “acid attack” which can lead to tooth decay. Water is a much better option to stay hydrated. If you do consume a sugary drink, try to minimize the drinking time and rinse after.
Some nutritious foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits are acidic by nature. They can have acidic effects on tooth enamel. Try to eat them as part of a meal, not by themselves. Dried fruits are a good choice for a healthy diet, but since they are sticky and adhere to teeth for long periods of time, the bacteria acids that they produce continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them. If possible, brush and floss your teeth after eating dried fruits.
Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, calcium-fortified tofu, leafy greens and almonds, are foods that may benefit oral health because of the high amounts of calcium and other nutrients they provide. Protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs are the best sources of phosphorus. Both calcium and phosphorus play a critical role in dental health, by protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for a healthy mouth since they are high in water and fiber, which balances the sugars they contain and help to clean the teeth. These foods also help stimulate saliva production, which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth and helps neutralize acid, protecting teeth from decay. Additionally, many contain vitamin C (important for healthy gums and wound healing) and vitamin A ( key nutrient in building tooth enamel).
Research shows that there is a strong relationship between diet and oral health. A well balanced diet plays a major role in the prevention of gum disease and tooth decay. Teaching children good health habits early on will lead to a lifetime of healthy living.