It’s key to note the importance of what we put in our mouths and how much that affects our oral health. Diet and nutrition are as important as brushing and flossing when it comes to the impact they have on our teeth.
Diet versus Nutrition
Diet refers to the foods we eat. Nutrition refers to the nutrients in the food. Each impacts oral health differently.
Diet can affect the teeth themselves, saliva, and the pH balance in the mouth. Its effects are generally local to the mouth. Nutrition, on the other hand, has a more systemic effect. It can affect the teeth, jaw bone, and other supporting structures of the teeth.
Changes to your diet can lead to changes in the health of your teeth and mouth pretty quickly, while changes to nutrition will take longer to notice.
“Fermentable Carbohydrates”—What They Are and Why You Want to Avoid Them
It’s no surprise that I’m going to recommend you avoid sugary foods and drinks. Everyone knows that too much candy and soda “rots” your teeth. But I want to go a little more in depth.
Sugars, whether naturally occurring or added to the food we eat, are known as “fermentable carbohydrates.” These carbohydrates begin breaking down in the mouth, rather than further on in the digestive tract like other foods. The sugars stick to teeth in a sticky film called plaque, feeding bacteria in the mouth, and that’s the beginning of tooth decay. The “stickier” the fermentable carbohydrates are, the more damage they can do.
It’s not hard to identify and avoid the “usual suspects” like candy, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, fruit juices, and regular sodas. It’s more challenging to identify foods with high sugar content that you’d never suspect of having high sugar. This includes foods like bread, crackers, plain cereals, and even fresh and dried fruits. More and more packaged and processed foods are loaded with sugar to make them more palatable, and these added sugars are hiding in plain sight, waiting to damage your teeth. The moral of the story: always check food labels to see how much sugar lurks inside.
Eating for a Healthy Mouth
How can you change your diet to make it more mouth-friendly? In addition to cutting down on sugar, I think a great place to start is with the recommendations from the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. They recommend eating a wide variety of foods:
- grains, of which half should be whole grains;
- legumes like peas and beans;
- a variety of multi-colored vegetables;
- fresh, whole fruits;
- calcium-containing dairy; and
- protein in lean meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, and soy.
(You can learn more about the USDA nutritional recommendations here.)
And don’t forget about liquids. Keep your mouth moist by drinking plain water throughout the day to help wash food particles away and avoid dry mouth, which can lead to a host of problems.
Taking Care of Your Teeth Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Taking care of your teeth doesn’t only happen when you pick up the toothbrush. It needs to happen all day long, as you make conscious decisions about the foods you eat and understand not just how they affect your overall health, but your oral health, too.
Take the first step-start replacing one sugary snack a day with an extra serving of vegetables or a whole piece of fresh fruit. And don’t forget to brush afterward!