Nutrition and Oral Health
What you consume has a lot to do with your oral health. What you eat and drink does affect your teeth and gums. Your mouth is the gateway to your digestive system. Eating something bad will have an effect on your teeth and gums. Eating something good and healthy will also have an effect on your teeth and gums. Just like a healthy body, a healthy smile depends on good nutrition. Good nutrition fosters a balanced, thriving microbiome. The more good bacteria in your mouth, the stronger your enamel and gingiva will be at resisting oral diseases like caries and erosion.
Although preventable to a great extent, untreated tooth decay (or cavities) is the most common health condition worldwide. When we think about the potential consequences of untreated oral diseases including pain, reduced quality of life, lost school days, disruption to family life, and decreased work productivity, making sure our mouths stay healthy is incredibly important.
How do you know your mouth is healthy? Look for these common indicators:
- Teeth are strong and intact
- No signs of pain or achiness in the teeth or gums
- No bleeding in the mouth or gums
- No excessive tenderness
- Neutral or good breath
- Absence of sores, discoloration, abscesses, etc.
The mouth, also called the oral cavity, starts at the lips and ends at the throat. A healthy mouth and well-functioning teeth are important at all stages of life since they support human functions like breathing, speaking, and eating. In a healthy mouth, tissues are moist, odor-free, and pain-free. When we talk about a healthy mouth, we are not just talking about the teeth but also the gingival tissue (or gums) and the supporting bone, known together as the periodontium. The gingiva may vary in color from coral pink to heavily pigmented and vary in pattern and color between different people. Healthy gingiva is firm, not red or swollen, and does not bleed when brushed or flossed. A healthy mouth has no untreated tooth decay and no evidence of lumps, ulcers, or unusual color on or under the tongue, cheeks, or gums. Teeth should not be wiggly but firmly attached to the gingiva and bone. It should not hurt to chew or brush your teeth.
Throughout life, teeth and oral tissues are exposed to many environmental factors that may lead to disease and/or tooth loss. The most common oral diseases are tooth decay and periodontal disease. Good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, combined with a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risks like excess sugar and smoking, help to avoid these two diseases. There is a clear correlation between ongoing consumption of acidic and high-sugar foods and increased dental erosion. Eating foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, starch and acid can weaken tooth enamel and cause decay.
Tooth decay and tooth erosion sound similar, but they stem from different causes.
- Tooth decay (aka caries or cavities) is the deterioration of enamel due to an abundance of dental plaque, a biofilm created by destructive bacteria and bolstered by high sugar intake.
- Tooth erosion (aka demineralization) is the corrosion of enamel due to the consistent intake of highly acidic liquids and food.
The state of our teeth and gums can often signal systemic problems, including cardiovascular disease, celiac disease, diabetes, sinus infection, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux, alcoholism and more. In fact, your dentist can sometimes diagnose these conditions before your doctor. If our eyes are the windows to our soul, our teeth and gums are a window to our bodies.
If cavities are the major oral issues with kids, periodontal disease affects half of American adults over the age of 30. Both issues are a relation to bad nutrition. Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gum tissue, is an early-stage problem. With proper care, you can reverse it. But if you don’t the inflammation will lead to “pockets” or little spaces between teeth and gums. Bacteria loves to colonize these pockets which leads to periodontitis, which leads to permanent destruction of tissues connecting teeth to bone in the mouth. But the complex nature of periodontal disease makes it difficult to determine its true relation to diet and nutrition.
When gums are inflamed and broken, harmful bacteria can enter the bloodstream more easily, leading to other chronic health problems. Gum disease doesn’t just signal inflammation; it also increases inflammation. Inflammation leads to coronary artery disease. The same bacteria colonizing in the gums are also found in arterial-wall plaques.
Mucosal cells in out mouth turn over within three to seven days. Nutrient shortfalls or excesses will show up in mouth tissue before they show up anywhere else. Periodontal disease is associated with lower blood levels of vitamins and minerals. Getting enough of specific nutrients can be very important to successful treatment.
So, what actions can you take to support good oral health and have your teeth and gums last longer as well as support good health for your body?
Remember, there is no health without oral health.
- Brush your teeth, not only with fluoride-based toothpaste, but also baking soda-based toothpaste. The baking soda will raise the pH in your mouth, making it more alkaline and therefore decreasing risk of cavities.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking can wreak havoc on gum and tooth health.
- Drink green tea. Drinking green tea improves the health of your teeth and gums, as it decreases inflammation, makes your mouth more alkaline, inhibits the growth of cavity-causing bacteria, prevents tooth loss, may slow progression of oral cancer, and freshens breath by killing odor-causing bacteria. Wow! All this, and it can help you to lose fat, too.
- Chew xylitol gum after meals. Xylitol increases saliva production and prevents the bacteria in your mouth from producing the acids that cause cavities. But don’t go overboard, because even if sugar alcohols won’t harm your teeth, they can cause gas and bloating.
- Eat mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods that provide plenty of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin K (especially K2) and vitamin D. Foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, hard aged cheeses, plain yogurt, meats, natto, beans, mushrooms, fish, eggs, and organ meats all work here. Oh, and make sure you get some sunlight.
- Eat some raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables every day. Raw veggies clean your teeth to a degree (apples, carrots, bell peppers, etc.). Eating an apple as dessert after lunch will help to remove material that has adhered to the surface of your teeth. Plus, apples contain naturally occurring xylitol.
- Limit added sugars from both foods and beverages. This includes soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, candies, etc. Energy drinks are particularly damaging as they combine a high sugar load with an incredibly acidic pH. If your diet is built around energy bars and energy drinks, you probably won’t have any teeth remaining on your 45th birthday.
- Maintain a lean/healthy body composition. Excess body fat can promote poor systemic health, including poor oral health.
- Increase the amount of arginine in your diet. Eat more spinach, lentils, nuts, eggs, whole grains, meat, seafood, and soy.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise seems to protect against periodontal disease.
- Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
As growing research and studies reveal the link between oral health and overall health, it becomes more evident that taking care of your teeth isn’t just about having a nice smile and pleasant breath. Studies show that poor oral health is linked to heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy complications, and more, while positive oral health can enhance both mental and overall health. Good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, combined with a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risks like excess sugar and smoking, help to keep your smile and body healthy.