As fad diets abound, it can seem impossible to gain real clarity on which foods are best for you. Then your dentist starts telling you about the importance of good nutrition for good dental health. Yikes! Does this mean that there are different sets of recommendations for oral and overall health? How does the average person navigate the complexities of pursuing a healthy diet?
If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind recently, then we have good news for you. Studies show that the foods that support your overall health tend to be the same as those that prevent tooth decay and other oral diseases. In other words, following a healthy diet will benefit your teeth and gums, too!
Sometimes, making small changes over time is the best approach to promoting your health long-term. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight or trying to implement a more balanced diet with limited success, we encourage you to continue these efforts even if it’s just one step at a time.
Below, we recommend three steps you can take to eliminate your most detrimental eating patterns and then, improve your nutrition for a healthier mouth.
Cut Down on Soda
Commonly associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain, soda is also a powerhouse for cavity development. When you drink soda, the sugars it contains cause the harmful bacteria in your mouth to multiply and secrete acid as a byproduct. With each swig, you initiate a damaging reaction that lasts for 20 minutes, leading to constant erosion of the teeth. The inevitable result of such erosion is dental decay—and a trip to the dentist to fill the cavity.
Because soda drinking has a significant negative effect on oral health, we recommend cutting soda out of your diet as a first-line approach. Recognizing that the sugars in soda can be addictive, we would advocate a gradual cut-back if this has been difficult for you in the past. Start by removing any soda products from your home—it’s easier to avoid drinking it if it’s not there to begin with.
Then, see if you can decrease the number of times you order soda when you’re out. With time and intention, it will feel normal not to drink soda and you will see the effects in healthier teeth!
Avoid Sweets Whenever Possible
It has been long recognized that sugar plays a pivotal role in the development of dental decay. Very low levels of dental caries are found in societies with low sugar intake. When sugar consumption increases, dental caries become more prevalent. Unfortunately, the sugar-rich diet of American culture sets us up for a much greater risk of cavities.
Sugar acts as a magnet for bad bacteria, namely streptococcus mutans and streptococcus sobrinus. These bacteria feed on the sugar you eat and form dental plaque, a colorless film that accumulates on the surface of the teeth. When plaque isn’t washed away by saliva, brushing, or flossing, the environment in the mouth becomes more acidic. This acidity will dissolve the minerals in your teeth, destroying the tooth enamel and forming holes in the teeth.
Thus, the best way to promote healthy teeth and gums is to decrease the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis. That means sweets and sugary drinks, of course, as well as foods high in added and refined sugars. Frequent sugar intake (i.e. additional snacks between meals) can also put you at greater risk for cavities because it keeps the mouth acidic over longer periods of time.
Increase Variety and Vegetable Intake
Vegetables contain a range of nutrients needed for strong oral and overall health, but unfortunately, most of us don’t meet the daily recommended guidelines. Because vegetables are high in fiber, they improve the mouth’s microbial environment by feeding good bacteria (and starving out the bad kinds).
A healthy mouth means fewer cavities! These positive effects extend to the intestine, where a healthy microbiome has been found to improve energy and inhibit disease processes. Many vegetables contain key vitamins for good oral health:
- Calcium provides the building blocks that teeth need to stay strong and healthy. It also helps put minerals back into your teeth by helping you produce more saliva. While many people assume that dairy products are the best source of calcium, conventional dairy products often contain hormones and antibiotics, which are detrimental to health. You can get the same benefits with broccoli, cauliflower, figs, olives, and leafy greens such as collards, kale, and spinach.
- Magnesium is responsible for the remineralization of the teeth by controlling the balance of other nutrients in the body. Rich sources of magnesium include squash seeds, leafy greens, and avocado.
- Vitamin C strengthens the gums and soft tissues in the mouth. There is significant evidence that vitamin C protects against gum disease (gingivitis as well as periodontitis, in its most severe form). Red and green bell peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, and turnip greens have the highest calcium content.
You may also want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement, as most people don’t get sufficient Vitamin D from daily sun exposure. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and other substances needed to remineralize the teeth. Additionally, you can find natural sources of Vitamin D in foods such as salmon, tuna, mushrooms, and egg yolks.
More Ways to Work Toward Good Dental Health
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the nutritional factors that promote oral health, we’ve seen how taking these steps improves both oral and overall health in our patients. We encourage you to check out our informative Penn Dental Family Practice dental tips to learn more about the importance of good nutrition for good dental health. Through education and preventive care, the staff at Penn Dental Family Practice support the optimal oral health of our patients.
For more information about how to keep your oral health and smile at their very best, click here to learn about our cosmetic dentistry program. Or, call us at 215-898-7337 to make an appointment.