A Healthy Balance Of Nutrition And Oral Health
March is National Nutrition Month, a month dedicated to nutrition education sponsored every year by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The goal is to help each of us make informed decisions about what we eat and drink, and how it affects our over-all health.
Good nutrition is connected to our teeth and overall oral health, with each affecting the other. While we know that sugar doesn’t do our teeth any favors, we might not be aware of some of the foods that can actually be helpful to our body are tough on our teeth, and why. With just a basic understanding of a few key concepts, we can still enjoy great nutrition and healthy teeth.
The Acid Factor
At the very root of much tooth trouble is acid. Acidity eats away at the enamel on our teeth, and can come from either the food we eat or is created by the bacteria in our mouth that lives on sugar. Teeth that are worn become more sensitive to temperatures, and more susceptible to tooth decay. The mouth is naturally a non-acidic environment. Our saliva is neutral, or just slightly alkaline.
Fruits, particularly citrus or grapes, are often acidic, but fruits have nutritional benefits that we shouldn’t ignore. How can we enjoy the taste and benefits of fruit while protecting our teeth? It is best to rinse the mouth with tap water after it is exposed to acid or after consuming fruits, and then follow through with brushing the teeth about 40 minutes later. It might seem counter-intuitive to wait on brushing, but our teeth are more susceptible after being exposed to acid, and vigorous brushing could actually harm them. Exposing our teeth to chemical erosion, and then to physical erosion immediately after, won’t help them retain enamel.
The Bacteria Factor
Bacteria are naturally present in our mouth, but can cause bad breath and tooth decay by attaching themselves to the enamel of our teeth. Left unchecked, the multiply and mix with our saliva and eventually create plaque. This leads to cavities. Good oral habits and regular dental checkups and cleanings are the best way to stay on top of this, but there are other things we can do right now to enjoy the healthy foods that might promote bacteria in our mouth.
Some foods, like raisins, onions, shiitake mushrooms, wasabi, sesame seeds, cinnamon, white and red wine, and green tea actually help control or kill the bacteria in the mouth. Celery and sugarless chewing gum, particularly gums with Xylitol as a sweetener, also promote bacterial control in that the chewing action creates saliva. This helps control bacteria. Additionally, getting in the habit of ending a meal or snack with a rinse or drink of water helps to keep bacteria in check.
The Strength Factor
Dairy products, unless loaded with sugar, provide necessary calcium and phosphate needed for tooth health. Not only is dairy vital for teeth, but also for our bones. Nine out of 10 women and almost two-thirds of men do not get the calcium amounts recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. Low calcium intake increases the chance of developing of osteoporosis (thinning of bones) and high blood pressure. We need calcium.
Cheese is a unique food in that it actually helps reduce the acidity in the mouth. It also deposits calcium in the plaque around our teeth, helping to reduce the amount of calcium lost when our teeth are under an acid attack. Plus, the casein present in cheese helps to form a thin film on tooth enamel which prevents damage. Consider eating a bit of cheese during or immediately after a meal to reap not only the nutritional benefits, but the oral health benefits, too.
The Me Factor
While it can be overwhelming to do a major all-encompassing diet overhaul, a few simple habits can help both our body and our teeth. Remembering that what is good for our body affects our teeth in different ways, and how we can simply deal with that, is the first small step.
And, when in doubt, drink water. Water is key to all-around good health.