Nutrition and Dental Health
By: Carmen Oldenburg, MA, CHES
Guest author Carmen Oldenburg is a Health Educator and Mind/Body Specialist and helps patients with lifestyle education and health and wellness coaching.
Poor nutrition affects the entire immune system, thereby increasing susceptibility to many disorders. People with lowered immune systems have been shown to be at higher risk for periodontal disease. Additionally, research shows a link between oral health and systemic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So eating a variety of foods as part of a well-balanced diet may not only improve your dental health, but increasing fiber and vitamin intake may also reduce the risk of other diseases.
Diet and nutritional advice for healthy teeth and gums:
First and foremost in developing strong teeth and gums is to ensure a balanced diet or an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is based on the general concept that constant or out-of-control inflammation leads to ill health, and that eating to avoid constant inflammation promotes better health and can ward off disease.
Carbohydrates consist of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes. Approximately 45% of an individual’s diet should come from this category of foods with the bulk of the foods coming from non-starchy vegetables. However, most Americans are eating less than 2-3 servings of vegetables and fruits a day and instead are eating the bulk of carbohydrates from the starches like grains and potatoes. Too many carbohydrates, sugars (for example, from cake, cookies, candies, milk, and other sugary foods and beverages), and savory foods and starches (for example, pretzels and potato chips) can cause tooth decay. How long carbohydrates remain on the teeth is the main culprit that leads to tooth decay. On the other hand, eating 5-8 half cup servings of non-starchy vegetables (e.g., leafy greens, broccoli) provides high levels of antioxidants, calcium for stronger teeth and a good source of fiber.
Protein provides a supply of amino acids that help to preserve and build muscle, and heal musculoskeletal tissues. Adequate protein is needed every day. It helps to maintain your muscles, and the amino acids are the building blocks for many important cell reactions. The average adult needs approximately 35% of their diet in the form of plant and/or lean animal proteins. Protein is important for the formation of teeth. In children, malnutrition of protein causes significant delay in eruption of primary teeth and studies suggest a relationship between early malnutrition and susceptibility to cavities later. In addition, protein and fat protect teeth from cavity-causing acids created as carbohydrates ferment.
Eating healthy fats has a direct impact on inflammation in the body. Sources of omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, the average American diet includes too many foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, found in processed and fast foods, and far too few rich in omega-3 and 9 fatty acids, such as those found in cold-water fish or nuts/seeds. When that balance is out of whack, inflammation can set in. The average adult needs about 20% of their diet in healthy fats. Omega-9 fats include avocado, olive oil, and almonds, to name a few. Sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds and oil (don’t heat flax), sardines, ocean salmon, and walnuts.
Here are some tips for selecting and eating foods that are more healthful to your teeth:
• Keep fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in your house to offer as "healthy snacks" instead of carbohydrates. Buy foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened or preferably natural such as whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Choose fruits and vegetables that contain a high volume of water, such as pears, melons, celery, and cucumbers. Limit bananas and raisins, as these contain concentrated sugar. You should brush immediately after eating fruits.
• Avoid sticky, chewy foods. Foods that cling to your teeth promote tooth decay. So when you snack, avoid soft, sweet, sticky foods such as cakes, candy and dried fruits. Instead, choose healthy foods such as nuts, seeds, raw vegetables, and plain yogurt. Try to brush teeth immediately after eating.
• Serve sugary treats with meals, not as snacks. If you plan to have sweets, eat them as desserts immediately following the meal. There’s usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtime, making it easier to wash food away from teeth. The mealtime beverage also helps to wash away food particles on teeth.
• Drink plain water instead of juice or soda. Juices, sodas, and even milk contain sugar. Water does not harm the teeth and aids in washing away any food particles that may be clinging to teeth.
• Include good sources of calcium in your diet to build strong teeth. Good sources include green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Eating 5-8 half-cup servings of vegetables per day helps fight inflammation in the entire body.
• Avoid eating fermentable carbohydrates by themselves. When you eat fermentable carbohydrates, such as crackers, cookies and chips, eat them as part of your meal, instead of by themselves. Combinations of foods neutralize acids in the mouth and inhibit tooth decay. For example, an apple with some nut butter provides a great snack by balancing the fructose from the apple with some healthy fat and protein from the nut butter. Your snack will be just as satisfying and better for your dental health as well as balancing blood sugar with some protein.
• Get in the habit of eating as few snacks as possible. The frequency of snacking is far more important than the quantity consumed. Time between meals allows saliva to wash away food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on. Frequent snacking, without brushing immediately afterwards, provides constant fuel to feed bacteria, which leads to plaque development and tooth decay. Try to limit snacks as much as possible and to no more than one or two a day. Brush teeth immediately after consuming the snack, if possible.
• Avoid sugary foods that linger on the teeth. Lollipops, hard candies, cough drops, and mints all contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.
• Never put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juice, or soda. If your baby needs a bottle at bedtime, fill it with plain water.
The Cleveland Clinic www.clevelandclinic.org/health
Institute of Functional Medicine www.functionalmedicine.org