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Diet and Teeth – what’s the connection?
Our bodies need nutritious foods to keep them healthy. The dietary choices we make each day affect all of our body systems and organs, including our teeth and gums. When we consume too many products with sugar, we are increasing the risk of tooth decay. While tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease, it is preventable.
What exactly is tooth decay? It is damage to the tooth’s enamel. The bacteria in your mouth make acids that attack the surface of your teeth. Sugary foods and drinks lead to the formation of plaque, or colonies of harmful bacteria. In turn, plaque causes cavities and damages the enamel, which leads to fillings and in severe cases – extractions.
Prevent decay – avoid sugar
To prevent plaque buildup, it’s important to control the amount of sugar being consumed. One way to do that is by reading nutrition labels on various food products and beverages, and choosing options with the lowest sugar value. Most ingredients that end in “ose” are sugars, such as: glucose, fructose, and sucrose. The more sugar a product has, the higher up it will appear on the nutrition list. Candy, soft drinks, pastries, cookies, ice cream – are all types of foods commonly known to contain large amounts of sugar. However, it’s good to remember that sugar can be found in many everyday pantry items, too, including sauces, condiments or cereals.
One more piece of advice: just because a label reads “no added sugar”, it does not necessarily mean it’s sugar free. What it does mean is that no extra sugar has been added. It may, however, contain one of the sugars that ends in “ose”, or sugars can be listed as carbohydrates.
In addition, if your diet is missing certain nutrients, your gum tissues may be prone to infections. Severe gum disease can cause bad breath and tooth loss in adults. You can always ask your dentist, or a registered dietician, for suggestions on eating a healthy, well-balanced, low sugar diet.
Acidic foods can cause dental erosion, slowly dissolving the tooth enamel. All foods and drinks have a pH value. The lower that number is, the more acidic the product. Anything with a pH below 5.5 is considered to be erosion-causing. High pH values cancel out acids. Products with high pH values are called alkalis. For reference, pH 7 is the middle value between acid and alkali.
Here are some exemplary pH values of common products:
- Mineral water (still) pH 7.6
- Milk pH 6.9
- Cheddar cheese pH 5.9
- Lager pH 4.4
- Orange juice pH 3.8
- Pickles pH 3.2
- Cola pH 2.5
- Red wine pH 2.5
- Vinegar pH 2.0
Making smart food choices
To stay healthy, always think before you eat and drink. Consider the products you consume as well as when you eat them because it can affect your oral health. Try limiting snacking throughout the day. It’s better to eat 3 meals a day than 7-10 snacks. However, if you do feel like having a bite between meals, choose wisely – some raw veggies, nuts, a breadstick or cheese. Try to limit fruits as they contain sugar and acids that can hurt your enamel. Rotate fruits with other, more savory snacks. Make sure to eat a good variety of foods from the 5 major food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins (lean meats and legumes), and low-fat dairy.
So does that mean no sweets at all? Not necessarily. It’s all about moderation. If you want to have sweet foods, fine, but make sure you’re having them at mealtimes. Just be careful with how often you’re consuming sugary foods and drinks. Remember, in addition to tooth decay, they can also cause a range of other health problems, like heart disease and being overweight.
Healthy drink choices
It’s always important to stay well hydrated. The best drinking options are water and milk. Fruit juices can be consumed during mealtimes. If you’re craving juice before a meal, dilute it with water: 1 part fruit drink to 10 parts of water. Again, the best option would be sugar-free juices.
Keeping your mouth clean
In addition to keeping a well-balanced diet, it’s also very important to keep your teeth and gums clean. You should floss and brush them at least twice a day. It’s best to brush at least an hour after a meal. It’s crucial to brush before going to sleep. Why? Because the flow of saliva, your mouth’s own cleaning system, is much slower at nighttime. That leaves your mouth more vulnerable to decay.
When thinking about teeth brushing, always choose a toothpaste with fluoride that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. Children up to 3 years of age should use one with a fluoride level of at least 1000 ppm. Kids 3 and up as well as adults need toothpaste that has 1350-1500 ppm of fluoride.
Lastly, don’t forget to schedule regular dental check-ups. Your dentist can help you prevent oral problems from occurring. They can also detect any issues in the early stages, when treatment is still easy.
Reach Out to Great Lakes Dentistry Today!
To schedule an appointment and discuss your dietary habits, call Great Lakes Dentistry today. Our dentists will gladly examine your teeth and gums, and offer the best treatments for you. We’re waiting for your call!