A nutritious diet keeps your body healthy and it keeps your mouth healthy too. The food you choose to eat affects the health of your teeth and gums. If you eat a lot of sugary foods and drink a lot of sugary beverages and you consume these kinds of foods frequently then you’re putting yourself at risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
So, if you have a big sweet tooth, beware. The frequent consumption of sugary foods encourages the continuous demineralization, and it doesn’t give your saliva a chance to wash out and neutralize acids created when you eat these kinds of food. Sticky or chewy food can also pose more of a risk because it has a tendency to remain in the mouth longer, which gives the food more time to produce harmful acids.
The sugars and carbohydrates that make up many of today’s typical diets can ferment in the mouth to create acids that attack the teeth, which leads to tooth decay. Tooth decay leads to problems like cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease, which is a major cause of tooth loss in adults.
However, it is not enough to just limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. If you are not getting the right kinds of nutrients, it is more difficult for your mouth to resist infection which, in turn, can contribute to gum disease. The more nutrition your diet lacks, the faster gum disease progresses.
What kinds of nutrition choices can you make that are good for both your body and your mouth? The American Dental Association recommends that you drink plenty of water and eat a diet with a variety of foods from each of the five food groups. So, choose foods with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat and fat free dairy foods, and lean sources of protein like lean beef, skinless chicken or turkey, fish, dry beans, legumes, and peas.
The American Dental Association also recommends that you limit the number of snacks you eat. They explain that the mouth produces more saliva when you eat a meal. Saliva actually protects your mouth. It washes out food in your mouth and helps to lessen the effects of acids in your mouth that contribute to tooth decay and cavities. However, if you do need to snack, choose foods like cheese (low fat of course), unsweetened yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Dairy foods are particularly good for oral health. Milk contains calcium, phosphate, and casein, which is a milk protein. These ingredients can help protect your teeth and keep them health. Cheese has a fat which reduces the amount of bacteria on your teeth. In fact, eating a small piece of cheese after a meal can help protect the enamel on your teeth.
Tea, in moderation, is also good for the teeth. Tea contains a chemical called polyphenol which suppresses the growth of bacteria on the teeth. Tea also contains fluoride, which protects the teeth against decay. Fluoride reduces the rate at which the tooth enamel demineralizes, and because of that it was added present in the public water supplies of the United States in 1945. In fact, the Center for Disease Control lists the fluoridation of our nation’s water supplies as one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century. That’s how important fluoride is to our oral health!
Here are some tips you can use to keep your teeth healthy when you eat:
- Avoid drinking sugary or acidic beverages between meals. Remember that your mouth produces less saliva when you snack, so it is not able to neutralize the acid from those kinds of drinks.
- End a meal with milk or a small amount of cheese. It can help neutralize the acid produced by foods.
- Space your snacks and meals at least one to two hours apart to allow remineralization of your teeth to occur.
- Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after consuming acidic foods or drinks. If you brush your teeth when they are in a demineralized state you can remove a layer or tooth enamel.
- Drinking through a straw reduces the amount of liquid that comes into contact with your teeth.
- Chewing sugar free gum after a meal or snack will cause your mouth to produce more saliva to wash away foods and neutralize acid.
- Less saliva is produced at night, so avoid eating or drinking anything except for water after you have brushed your teeth.