Diet plays a huge role in one’s overall health, and that includes one’s dental health. As the Academy of General Dentistry explains, it is possible to prevent tooth decay and gum disease just by maintaining a healthy diet. Poor nutrition isn’t a direct cause of periodontal (gum) disease, but it can worsen it and bring it on more quickly, in addition to weakening the body’s immune system. Research has also shown that there’s a link between dental health and medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Suffice it to say, a well-balanced, healthy diet is of utmost importance for good oral health.
For parents, your child’s diet is very important, and the best way to ensure that they have good dental health (and overall health) throughout their life is to start early with smart eating habits. It’s best to eat healthy as a family, as you’ll be taking care of yourself while setting a good example!
Clingy Foods, Sweet Drinks, Carbs, and Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is caused when bacteria feeds off the sugars left on your teeth and gums, and leaves acid behind that attacks the teeth’s enamel. Over time, tooth decay can lead to cavities. This can readily happen when you eat or snack on sticky, soft, sweet foods like candy, cake, and dried fruit. It’s even worse when you eat this kind of food without brushing your teeth afterward.
It’s not just the obvious culprits, either. Something as seemingly innocent as apple juice may have added sugar that can attract harmful bacteria. Other drinks that can be damaging to the teeth include sports drinks, energy drinks, lemonade and sweetened tea or coffee. Sipping a drink is more damaging, since with each sip your teeth are bathed with sugars.
Fermentable carbohydrates like chips, cookies, and crackers can also cause bacteria to form. However, there are certain food combinations that can neutralize acids, such as cheese eaten with crackers. Because of this, these types of foods are best eaten as part of a meal.
Spotting Added Sugar in Foods
It isn’t always obvious which food contains sugar, as some ingredients don’t even have the word “sugar” in them. Become a label reader and be on the lookout for corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrin, glucose, evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, and molasses. These are all sugars that can harm your teeth. Honey and maple syrup, while healthier than other forms of sugar, can also attract bacteria.
The Best Foods for Dental Health
So now that you know what you shouldn’t eat, what are the best foods for dental health? Not surprisingly, they’re also the same foods that are recommended for overall good health. The American Dental Association (ADA) has published a guide for healthy eating. They recommend choosing foods from the five food groups — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein, and dairy. For vegetarians who don’t eat meat, peas, beans, and legumes are good sources of protein. They explain that eating food during a meal is better than snacking, because more saliva is released during meals and saliva lessens the effect of acids by washing food from the mouth.
Foods with calcium, such as milk, cheese, plain yogurt, almonds, and leafy greens, are excellent for the health of your teeth. Phosphorous, which is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk, is another important mineral for dental health, since it protects and rebuilds tooth enamel. Vegetables and fruit are high in fiber and water, which balances their sugar content, stimulates saliva production, and helps to keep teeth clean.
Oral Health and the Importance of Water
Never underestimate the importance of water! In addition to washing food particles from the teeth, water also contains fluoride, which protects tooth enamel, helping to prevent tooth decay. Drinking water also helps to maintain your mouth’s saliva, so that its proteins and minerals can help counter the effects of enamel-attacking acids.
A healthy diet is essential for good overall health — and that includes your family’s teeth and mouths!