Diet influences all aspects of your wellbeing, including oral health. The nutritional value of food plays a significant role in dentition and oral health. Conversely, taking a healthy and balanced diet is not possible without healthy teeth and gums. It shows that diet and oral health have a two-way relationship. How else does diet affect dental health? Let us dive deeper to understand the effect of dietary choices on teeth and gums.
Sugar and Acid: The Baddies
Foods high in sugar or acid content may sound the death knell of your oral health at any age. Let’s start with sugary foods and drinks to understand this better. Saliva is the natural cleanser in our mouth. It helps wash away food particles and bacteria and neutralizes the acid produced from the foods we eat throughout the day. However, bacteria multiply and produce more acid than the existing saliva when you eat sugar. So, saliva alone cannot wash all the bacteria and acid resulting from sugar intake. Therefore, your enamel begins eroding, and dental health goes into a downward spiral.
Know that Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus are the two destructive bacteria in our mouth. Sugar consumption leads to the growth of these bacteria and plaque formation. Untreated plaque turns into tartar and can cause gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. Both these diseases affect teeth and teeth nerves, and can eventually break down the bones that support teeth.
Some studies suggest that bacteria increase inflammation in your mouth and adversely affect the immune system’s ability to fight infections.
Similarly, consuming acidic foods and drinks like juices, lemonade, sports drinks, tomatoes, and yogurt also attack the teeth’ enamel and can eventually cause painful teeth sensitivity. It also means you can no longer enjoy something hot and cold because it affects the exposed inner layer of teeth. However, unlike sugar-laden foods and drinks, some acidic foods and beverages have health benefits too. So, giving them up altogether is not recommended. For example, lack of Vitamin C causes scurvy, a disease with gum problems as one of its symptoms. Oranges, gooseberry, and strawberry, although highly acidic, are excellent sources of Vitamin C and are beneficial for dental health in general.
Similarly, meat, grains, fish, corn, prunes, etc., are moderately acidic foods but have significant health benefits. To enjoy acidic foods without triggering sensitivity, rinse your mouth with plain water immediately after eating or drinking something acidic. Wait for at least 30 minutes to brush your teeth after eating something because the acids in food weaken the enamel; brushing teeth soon after taking food may lead to enamel erosion. In addition, take a diet that has both acidic and alkaline foods as it helps neutralize the acidity. If you already have sensitive teeth, limit the consumption of highly acidic food and drinks, and use desensitizing toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
So, do these tips work for preventing damage from sugar consumption? Somewhat, but not completely. The best way to prevent sugar-led tooth decay and gum problems is to cut down daily sugar intake. Start with eliminating refined white sugar wherever possible. Polyols like maltitol, isomaltose, xylitol, and sorbitol are better options for enjoying something sweet without jeopardizing your dental health. Check labels and avoid buying cookies, tea cakes, chips, sauces, etc., with added sugar. It will not only improve your oral health but overall health too. Some people may want to replace refined sugar with jaggery powder or raw, unrefined honey. Renowned dentists in Chula Vista advise that even though these are healthier alternatives, they also have high sugar content and affect the teeth as refined sugar does.
Vegetarian vs. Non-vegetarian Diet
So, which diet is better for dental health? A study published in 2017 suggested that vegetarians are at a higher risk of dental erosion. This is because they eat more fruits, which are acidic and may lower the pH level in the oral cavity, causing cavities. The vegetarian diet also lacks essential amino acids found aplenty in eggs, fish, turkey, etc. Too few amino acids weaken dental structures, making it difficult to repair the wear and tear of dental tissues. Another study published in 2019 supports the view that vegetarians are more vulnerable to developing dental caries. However, these studies are not conclusive. There are studies with results antithetical to the findings mentioned above. For example, a 2013-study showed that vegetarians have better periodontal conditions. It means they showed fewer signs of inflammation, less bleeding on probing, less mobile teeth, and a higher ranking on the hygiene index.
Likewise, a 2020-study also found that raw vegans had a lower amount of calculus and tartar, better periodontal condition, lower inflammation, and fewer missing teeth. Therefore, it is safe to presume that vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets have pros and cons for oral health. It is sensible to include non-vegetarian food in your diet unless you are a vegetarian because of cultural or religious reasons or have been advised by a qualified medical practitioner to turn vegetarian or vegan.
What is the best diet plan for optimal oral health?
First, choose foods that are a combination of macronutrients and micronutrients. A balanced diet for good oral and overall health comprises complex carbs, lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Include leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, eggs, meat, poultry, and whole grains in your everyday diet. A special mention for dental health would be calcium. It helps strengthen the teeth and prevents enamel erosion and cavities. The recommended calcium intake for adults is 1,000-2,000 mg daily. However, do not increase calcium intake without consulting your doctor if you have heart or kidney issues.
Drink more water as every sip cleans your mouth and dilutes acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. It also prevents dry mouth, a condition that occurs when saliva production decreases.
Additionally, do not forget to brush and floss your teeth twice daily. A nutritious diet helps improve dental health only when you diligently follow a health care routine.
Which foods do you prefer for healthy teeth and gums?
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