The effect of your food choices on your Oral Health
As you already know, what food you eat on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your oral health. It is very important to be aware of your eating habits and the foods that you consume. If you choose processed, highly acidic, highly sugary foods regularly, you are likely to experience negative effects in your oral health state. Conversely, if you choose more unprocessed, healthy foods then you are likely to aid the health of your teeth and gums.
Foods you should consume:
Fruits and vegetables - rich in fiber, that keeps your teeth and gums clean and also get more saliva flowing. This is the next best natural defence against cavities and gum disease, after a good oral hygiene. Your saliva begins to reduce the effects of acids from sugary/starchy foods on your teeth, about 20 mins after eating. It also contains traces of calcium and phosphate and restores minerals to areas of the enamel that have been affected by the acids.
Cheese, milk, plain yoghurt, and other dairy - cheese is another saliva maker. Cheese also contains calcium, whilst milk contains calcium and phosphates. Dairy products help to rebuild the tooth enamel.
Green and black teas - contain polyphenols that either hold or kill plaque bacteria, preventing it from growing or producing acid harmful to the teeth
Sugarless chewing gum - another great saliva maker
Foods with fluoride - any product that you can make with fluoridated water helps your teeth grow, including powdered juices (ones that don’t contain much sugar) and dehydrated soups. Poultry, seafood and powdered cereals can also be sources of fluoride
Foods rich in healthy fats - healthy fats like omega-3 are an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet that results in good oral health. Olive oil, avocado, walnuts and salmon are all rich in omega 3.
Foods you should limit:
Sticky candies and sweets - lollipops, caramels, toffees, cough drops with refined sugar all stay on the teeth longer and so allow for bacteria to produce more acids from sugars. Chocolate has been promoted to prevent cavities, however this has not been completely proven yet. Chocolate can wash off the teeth more quickly than other sweets though. Dark chocolate (>70%) can have some health benefits.
Starchy foods that can get stuck easily - soft breads and crisps can easily get trapped in between your teeth and stay there for a long time.
Carbonated soft drinks - many of these are loaded with sugar. Most contain phosphoric and citric acids that wear the enamel away
Substances that dry your mouth - alcohol and some medicines. If alcohol is consumed in the form of a sugary cocktail, then the reduced saliva flow combined with longer exposure of sugar to teeth can, if consumed regularly, cause tooth decay or gum disease over time. If medicines are the cause, talk to your dentist about getting a fluoride rinse or fluoride gel.
Very hard to chew foods - the enamel is the hardest part of the body, however it can’t endure consistent chewing on hard foods such as hard candies and ice. There’s always the risk of chipping off a piece of your teeth
Wine - wine contains alcohol, but is also known for staining your teeth and can also make them sticky, which is a bad combination with its high acidity.
Coffee - coffee stains are among the worst for your teeth because they are very resistant. Coffee’s combination of making teeth sticky, drying out the mouth, being already acidic and being consumed with sugar can result in very negative effects to tooth and gum health over a regular long term consumption. A good practice is to drink plenty of water to rinse the teeth after a cup of coffee.
Fruit juices - most are highly acidic and contain sugar. However they can have health benefits, so just make sure to rinse with water after drinking a glass.
Sour sweets - contain more and different kinds of acids than other varieties. What worsens matters is that you also can’t brush immediately because the acid in the sweets has softened the enamel, and so brushing could cause further damage.
Tips for eating
These habits are highly recommended to help maintain good oral health:
Eat sugary foods with meals - your mouth makes more saliva during meals, making it easier to neutralise the acid production by bacteria
Limit between-meal snacks - if you do have one, choose something nutritious. Consider chewing sugarless gum afterwards to stimulate saliva flow and wash out any food bits and acids
Drink more water - fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. If buying bottled water, check for the fluoride content
Brush twice a day - more detail in the oral hygiene article
Floss once a day - more detail in the oral hygiene article
Tips for cultivating healthy eating habits
Take these into consideration the next time you go shopping or make a meal for you or your family:
Choose the ‘light’/reduced sugar alternatives to products that have that option
Make vegetables a bigger part of your budget - this doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Frozen vegetables (a cheaper alternative) are just as good an option as fresh ones.
Have an awareness when you go into the supermarket to limit the amount of sugary and junk foods that you buy.
If you know you consume sugary foods regularly, commit to setting a personal daily limit to the amount you consume
Be kind to yourself even if you do end up eating more unhealthy food than planned
Work through this with the rest of your family and make it fun to experiment trying new, healthier alternatives to the regular foods you consume - this cultivates positive emotions towards taking care of your oral hygiene, and will make you more motivated to continue.