The food we eat, i.e our nutrition and our oral health are interconnected. From before birth, and from the cradle to the grave, nutrition plays a role in determining the oral health of an individual.
Oral health also has an impact on food intake at all ages. Infants can only consume soft food before their teeth develop and enable variety. This is also true for adults who have lost their teeth or are suffering from severe oral health problems.
This article discusses how nutrition and oral health are related, and what should and should not be done to maintain a healthy mouth and a healthy body.
What dental professionals can tell you about nutrition and oral health.
Here are some things your dentist or dental hygienist may tell you about nutrition if you take the time to ask.
According to a paper published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization “diet plays an important role in preventing oral diseases including dental caries, dental erosion, developmental defects, oral mucosal diseases and, to a lesser extent, periodontal disease”. The paper by Paula J. Moynihan of the School of Dental Sciences, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England summarizes the evidence for an association between diet, nutrition, and oral diseases.
Poor nutrition increases the harm from oral and dental diseases. Poor nutrition is also linked to developmental defects of the enamel, increasing the likelihood of dental caries.
A balanced diet benefits oral health by strengthening immunity. Michael P. Rethman, DDS, MS, a former president of the American Academy of Periodontology is quoted on perio.org, the website of the AAP: “A diet low in important nutrients can make it harder for the body’s immune system to fight off infection.”
Eating high levels of starchy staple foods, fruits and vegetables are linked to low levels of dental caries. So a diet high in starchy staple foods, fruit, and vegetables and low in free sugars and fat protect oral and general health.
Sugars are linked to dental caries. Controlling sugar levels in the diet is a key factor in caries prevention. Soft drinks—a key source of acid in the diet—cause dental erosion. It is also best to limit the intake of juices that are high in sugars and acid; they could lead to tooth abrasion and gum recession.
Fluoride in drinking water has not eliminated dental caries.
Daily calcium intake is important because it plays a vital role in building density in the alveolar bone that supports the teeth. Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth.
Results of a study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that those who take less than 500 milligrams—about half the recommended dietary allowance—of calcium were twice as likely to have periodontal diseases.
Vitamin C plays a role in maintaining and repairing healthy connective tissue, in addition to its antioxidant properties. Those taking less than 60mg recommended dose of vitamin C per day—about one orange—may be at nearly one-and-a-half times the risk of developing severe gingivitis; compared to those who consume three times the recommended dose. Gingivitis causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily and is the earliest stage of gum disease.
Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of periodontal disease. Patients with diabetes should try to reduce cholesterol and serum triglyceride levels through diet and exercise.
Drinking a lot of water keeps the mouth moist, and helps ward off tooth decay and periodontal diseases by washing away food and neutralizing plaque.
Regular brushing and flossing after meals help maintain great oral health. This is especially necessary after eating sticky and sugary foods.
It is important to protect teeth and oral health in older people. Saliva flow—needed for chewing and swallowing food—decreases with age. It may result in old people omitting healthy food from their diet, settling instead for foods of a pulpy, wet, smooth and slimy texture.
This can be detrimental to their health. Long term problems with dentures or dental problems can also create severe nutritional issues in older adults.