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Oral Health + Nutrition

June 16, 2014

Tooth decay is among the top chronic diseases affecting humans worldwide. Good nutrition and eating habits, routine visits to the dentist, and good oral hygiene practices are essential in the maintenance of oral health (1). Dental health is a vital component of nutrition because our digestive systems begin with our mouths and teeth. There are several nutrients that are beneficial to oral health and there are also some typical beverages and foods that we should enjoy minimally due to their negative effect on our gums and teeth.

Neglecting oral health is costly for overall quality of life. Bad dentition does not necessarily lead to ill heart health, diabetes, stroke, or fatal pregnancy outcomes but there are strong correlations. The relationship may stem from an inclusive lack of personal care but no direct relationship has been scientifically established. What we do know is that bad dentition is expensive to treat, painful, and debilitating, which can wreak havoc in other areas of life. "Good oral health allows a person to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and show feelings and emotions" (2, 3).

Adequate intake of certain dietary factors can decrease your risk for dental caries such as protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, E, K, C, minerals copper, iron, zinc, and calcium. Protein is important for the body’s ability to respond to infections, to maintain the antibacterial properties of saliva, and for healing mouth wounds (1). Some excellent sources of protein include meat, chicken, poultry, fish, eggs, and soy. Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, minerals copper, iron, and zinc are important for immune and anti-inflammation responses in your body and in your mouth (1). Diets rich in omega 3’s and other antioxidants have shown to decrease an individual’s risk for gum disease (4). Eating a variety of different fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains is a great way to supply your body with all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need. Vitamins D and K, as well as calcium are important for developing strong bones, which is important for oral health (5). An ideal jawbone is strong enough to anchor your teeth in place so that you can enjoy eating crunchy carrots, crisp apples, or other foods that brittle teeth could not easily chew. Gut bacteria produce vitamin K therefore eating yogurts with live active cultures have probiotic effects, and also supply the body with calcium and vitamin D (6, 7). Be sure to check the labels of dairy products before purchasing to ensure they contain active bacteria cultures and are vitamin D fortified - as not all brands are.

Drinking sugary-beverages like soda and juice, and consuming a lot of sticky food (dried fruit), hard candies, and starchy carbs such as cookies, bread, pasta, and cakes are associated with an increased risk for developing dental caries. Microorganisms feed off of carbohydrate particles resulting in an acidic byproduct that compromises tooth enamel. Choosing fresh, whole, and unprocessed food as often as possible promotes salivary output (1). Chewing sugarless gum immediately after eating has shown to promote re-mineralization of teeth and prevent plaque build-up (8). Acidic foods play a large role in increasing dental erosion (9). Not only does sugar from soda promote cavities, the acidic content is also a problem for teeth (10). Other acidic beverages and foods of concern include coffee, citrus fruits (lemons, oranges, grapefruit, etc.), tomatoes, wine, and vinegar-based dressings.

Fluoridation of the water supply may be somewhat controversial but has been advantageous for preventing cavities. Fluoride is a mineral that is important for bone and teeth mineralization. There are however optimal levels for fluoride and toxicity is a possible concern. Too much fluoride can cause a condition called fluorosis, which results in mild to severe tooth defects. If your state fluoridates its water supply, fluoride supplementation is not necessary, especially if you go to the dentist routinely and receive a topical fluoride treatment at your visit. If your state does not fluoridate the water supply supplementation may be beneficial. Be very careful not to go over the tolerable limit if using a fluoride supplement and speak to your physician, dentist, or dietician - who should all be familiar with safe levels for fluoride supplementation 11). The water system sticks within a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. Levels around 2 milligrams per liter or higher may cause fluorosis in children and levels above 4 milligrams per liter increase a person’s risk for bone fractures (12).

Nutrition has an important and symbiotic relationship with oral health because they both influence and affect one another. Poor nutrition leads to poor oral health outcomes and bad teeth make it hard to eat nutritiously. Nutrition will effect the development of teeth in early years and a continuous state of malnutrition increases the risk for developing oral and dental diseases. Work with your dentist and dietician for optimal care of your oral and overall health.

So that you may continue Happy Eating!

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