consider the tooth

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. 😉


7 thoughts on “consider the tooth

  1. This was too cute(!!), and informative!! =) I’ve had two cavities, one when I was little and one a few years ago. I floss every night, brush my teeth twice a day, use mouthwash twice a day, and always drink water with my foods. 🙂

  2. Pull up a chair and some of that awesome wheat cornbread that I keep drooling over. This is a long story.

    Baby-dental surgery because I needed several teeth pulled because I was growing too many teeth. I don’t quite understand that, but it happened. In and out of hospital, no problems. I loved the cherry popsicles.

    Age 10- Got braces because the teeth that were left were still crowding top and bottom.
    Age 17- braces off. Yes, that’s 7 years of braces, monthly tightening, metal junk wiring my jaws shut while something tried to pull my upper teeth back in line. huge mess. I lived off mashed potatoes and grits. And the waterpik was my best friend after eating those grits. ew.

    Ages 17-19. BLISS!!! no cavites, no braces, just straight pearly whites.
    Age 20- my wisdom teeth came in. Started crowding. Dentist told my parents that if we didn’t pull them asap, they could undo all the years of correction. Mom and dad thought he was just wanting more money and said no. 6 weeks later, mom noticed my bottom canine pulling out of line (just like her teeth). She showed dad and by the time I had wisdom teeth pulled, the whole bottom row of teeth look like a crooked fence rail. It happened that fast. My retainer broke 3 nights before surgery because they were shifting in my sleep.

    Age 22. Got my first cavity. And my first panic attack when they tried to fill it. It was my same pediatric ortho/dentist. For some reason, I felt like I couldn’t breath and I was laying on the tables they used for kids. He tried to quickly finish, but didn’t do it right. I’m 34. I havent’ eaten on that side of my mouth since then. I need to go back and get check ups, but I will seriously need sedating and they will have to put me to sleep to do anything.

    Now, I’m waiting to see about braces again for my lower teeth. My top row is beautiful. Bottom..yikes.

    I said all this to say that a big portion of dental health comes from your parents. That’s why some people NEVER get cavities and drink coke all day. Some people floss after every meal and snack and drink water and still get them. Some people have softer teeth and they are breeding grounds for cavities.
    So my only concern is not dying from a heart attack when I go see a dentist. 😀

    • Thank you so much for sharing, Katrina. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. It sounds horrid!

      You’re right. A lot of what happens to our teeth is definitely from our parents. So while it’s good to follow dental health practices, it doesn’t necessarily “guarentee” anything either.

      Hang in there…I hope your next dentist appointment goes much smoother!

  3. Wow.. this was awesome to read! Thank you 🙂
    .. I had no idea that some carbs were worse than others when it comes to developing cavities. It makes sense now that I think about it though, because I tend to eat a lot of sugars as apposed to starches. I would much rather go for something sweet and syrupy like a dessert than I would something starchy like a bunch of pretzels.. yet I rarely get cavities! Of course, I still pay much attention to brushing properly, but I’ve always thought that the amount of straight-up sugar that I consume was a bad thing. Apparently not!

    Very cool 🙂

  4. Good info. Thanks!

    Every time I go to the dentist the hygienist nags me about my gums and not flossing, etc. And I hate, hate, hate getting fillings. So about a month ago I printed out a calendar which I posted in the bathroom with a pencil nearby. I add tick marks to the relevant day when I brush and floss. I am trying really hard to floss every day, and haven’t missed a day since I started this calendar thing. I also brought a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste to work, and about half the time I remember to brush my teeth after lunch.

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