How Does What You Eat Affect Your Oral Health?

Did you know that you may be able to prevent two of the most common diseases, tooth decay and periodontal disease, by simply improving your diet?  Tooth decay happens when the teeth and other hard tissues of the mouth are compromised by acid products.  There are certain foods and combination of foods that are linked and associated to higher levels of cavity causing bacteria.  This does not mean that poor nutrition directly causes periodontal disease and tooth decay, but researchers believe that the diseases may progress more quickly and is more severe in patients whose diet does not involve healthy nutrients.  Not only does poor nutrition affect your mouth, it also affects your entire immune system.  For example, people with lowered immune systems have been shown to be at a higher risk for periodontal disease, and research shows that there is a link between oral health and other systemic conditions.  The two most prevalent systemic diseases are heart disease and diabetes.  Eating a well-balanced diet may not only improve your dental health, but also your overall well-being.

 So how can you plan your meals and snacks to promote your overall dental health?  First the simplest step is to eat a well-balanced diet.  Remember the five food groups?  You want to choose foods from these major food groups: fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, milk and dairy products and meat, chicken, fish or beans.  Fad diets may seem like a good idea at the time, but these diets usually result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.    Try to avoid foods that that cling to your teeth because those foods can cause tooth decay.  So when you choose a snack, avoid foods such as candy, dried fruits, or sweets.  If you do choose these snacks just remember to brush your teeth right after or at least rinse your mouth out with water.  The healthy options and foods that are best for your dental health would be foods such as nuts, raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese, and sugarless gum or candy.  Carbs are hard to resist, but try to eat these foods with a meal and not as a snack.  This way the other foods that you eat with your meal can neutralize the acids in your mouth.  For example, eat your crackers with some cheese that way the cheese can neutralize the acid of the cracker.  Drinking lots of water is not only good for your overall health, but can prevent dry mouth which can lead to more cavities.  If you do have a dry mouth, supplement your diet with sugarless candy or gum with xylitol to stimulate saliva production.

 One thing to always keep in mind is malnutrition can result from too much nourishment as easily as too little.  Additionally, studies are showing that dental disease is just as related to overeating as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.    Also, some eating disorders can cause erosion and dry mouth.  This can lead to more tooth decay as previously discussed. 

You may be asking yourself when you should consult your dentist about your nutritional status.  Always ask your dentist if you’re not sure how your diet may affect your oral health.  Conditions such as tooth loss, pain or joint dysfunction can impair chewing and are often found in elderly people, people on restrictive diets, and those who are undergoing medical treatment.  So if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us about it at your next dental visit!