How Diet Affects Dental Health
Americans that have been to a dental office generally know that there are plenty of ways to help fight off tooth decay and oral diseases. Decaying teeth and gums are not only unsightly and painful, but according to the Surgeon General, they also put patients at a greater risk for issues such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, pneumonia, and pancreatic disease. Americans understand that brushing regularly, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash a couple of times a day can do much to help. However, one area where focus seems to be lacking is understanding how diet affects our oral health, no matter how much we brush.
A study published by the National Center for Health Services in 2015 found that between 2011-2012 “among adults aged 20-64, 91% had dental caries and 27% had untreated tooth decay”, with disparities across age, race, and income levels. Those numbers are startling, especially considering that in 2019 about 74 million Americans (i.e., almost a quarter of the population) lacked any dental coverage!
Therefore, since many Americans find themselves opting out of preventative care visits, it is essential to think about the effective steps people can take at home to reduce their risk of costly dental complications. One easy preventative measure is making sure we are eating the right foods!
Foods to Avoid
Starting a path towards healthier eating is sometimes as easy as cutting out the wrong foods. Though not a comprehensive guide, this paragraph can help get an idea of where to start. Generally, the foods we want to avoid fall under four categories: sticky snacks, starchy foods, carbonated soft drinks, and anything that would dry out your mouth. For instance, sticky snacks such as candy or gum have refined sugars that combine with saliva and bacteria to create plaque, a sticky film that slowly dissolves the enamel that protects your teeth against cavities, infections, and temperature sensitivity. Starchy snacks, like potato chips, get stuck between teeth fairly easily and combine with bacteria to create similar sugars that eat away at your teeth.
Carbonated soft drinks are similar in their sugar content but also risk introducing other acids that wear away at enamel. Lastly, alcohol or other substances that could dry your mouth, such as tobacco, can dry your mouth and reduce the flow of saliva needed to provide fortifying calcium and phosphates and wash away harmful bacteria.
Habits for Healthier Teeth
Dietary needs vary by person, depending on their individual needs. No one diet can help everyone, but there are certain foods that can certainly make a difference. For example, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables help promote good overall health. They are full of many important vitamins and minerals. Plus, fibrous plants help promote saliva production since they involve much more chewing!
Another no-brainer is to drink plenty of water, especially water containing fluoride. Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products help promote saliva production and are a good source of calcium. Lastly, green and black tea can help reduce bacteria and combat any acids that would wear away at teeth. Other than limiting these foods, maintaining regular cleaning and limiting snacks across the day can help in the fight against tooth decay.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer operating out of Southern New Jersey. She writes for Luminae, a cosmetic dentistry office in Las Vegas.