Since we’re on the discussion of teeth and dental hygiene…
I thought it would be interesting to talk about how nutrition (our diet, that is) relates to the health of our teeth.
First off, some helpful words to know:
dental carie: this is just another name for “cavity.” Bacteria produce acid in your mouth after coming in contact with fermentable carbohydrates. This demineralizes your tooth enamel which leads to distruction of the structure of your tooth!
cariogenic foods: foods that contain those fermentable carbohydrates! Your saliva’s pH becomes acidic, which can lead to cavities when they come in contact with the microorganisms.
anticariogenic foods: this is the exact opposite of the above! These foods prevent plaque build up, thereby protecting your teeth.
Now, we’ve all been taught that sugar, sugar, sugar is what causes cavities. And while this is partially true, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. For example, a pretzel or a banana could be more cariogenic than a marshmallow. Why? It’s all about the stickiness factor.
While a marshmallow is sweet, it also stimulates saliva (saliva is a good thing in the protection against cavities.) And it doesn’t stick to your teeth like a cracker or a pretzel will. That long-lasting factor of the way a cracker sticks to your teeth means an increased risk of a cavity. Crazy, right?
But before you go off to eat a big bag of marshmallows in place of the crackers, know that the idea of healthy eating through the food pyramid still applies. While marshmallows will give you nothing but empty calories, whole grain crackers, breads, pastas, fruits, et cetera, will give your body important vitamins, minerals and fiber. So put down that bag of gumdrops, continue eating your beloved bananas, and follow these simple tips to help improve your dental health through food:
(1) Limit consumption of things like sports drinks, juices, sodas, etc. These drinks are oftentimes acidic. This leads to erosion of your teeth which increases the risk for caries!
(2) Combine protein with carbohydrates at snack time. Most dietitians recommend this healthy tip regardless of dental health, just because it keeps you full and energized! But the proteins found in things like cheese, nuts, tuna, and eggs do more than keep you full. They help to prevent the acidity level from going too low in your mouth. So, when you eat cheese with your crackers, you’re actually paying your teeth a favor!
(3) Chew on xylitol/sorbitol-based chewing gum immediately following a meal or snack. If you have GI issues related to gum, try rinsing your mouth with water instead, or brushing your teeth if you can.
(4) Drink more milk. Eat more raw veggies. See? The food pyramid still applies. Milk and cheese have been shown to have a good effect on preventing caries, and eating raw veggies produces more saliva (again, saliva is a good thing in dental health!)
This is just the tip of the iceburg (the pyramid?) when it comes to nutrition and dental health, but I thought it was an interesting topic to bring up. Especially since so many of us don’t like going to the dentist. *raises hand* ;)
Disclaimer: I have recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and I’m currently a dietetic intern. However, I am not yet a registered dietitian, nor am I certified as a dental professional. I referred to the following sources: “ADA (American Dietietic Association) Oral Health Nutrition Position Paper” and “Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy”
Question: What are your thoughts/questions/concerns when it comes to eating well and avoiding cavities? Have you had past issues with cavities or are you generally cavity free? I grew up eating a lot of starchy, sticky, and sugary foods. Cheeze-its. Crackers. Pretzels. Juices. You name it. Thankfully, I’ve made changes over the years to better protect my teeth and (hopefully) prevent future cavities.