It’s an idea we all know – eating healthy food creates healthy teeth. However, for ideal oral health it’s important to understand the process by which your diet can affect your oral health so that you can improve your diet and eating patterns with better oral health in mind.
Plaque and Acid Production
Oral bacteria can generally be kept in check by a healthy diet combined with regular and thorough dental care. When we eat or drink, natural bacteria and particles of food sit in the mouth and accumulate around the teeth, causing plaque to form. This is a constant process which eventually leads to the formation of dental caries, or cavities.
Some foods tend to start breaking down when they have been swallowed and reach the digestive tract, a good thing where oral health is concerned. However, other foods start to break down in the mouth itself – this encourages acid production by oral bacteria in the mouth and thereby hastens the destructive process to tooth structure. Saliva helps counteract the damage caused by these acids, as does regular brushing and fluoride; however it is best to minimise consumption of these types of foods where possible.
Carbohydrates are a good example of foods that break down in the mouth – they break down into simple sugars with the resultant acid production leading to plaque formation and greater likelihood of dental caries. Included in this category are sugary foods like sweets and soft drinks, as well as bread and most breakfast cereals.
Unhealthy Eating and Oral Health
Eating sugary and ‘junk’ foods promotes the acidic build-up in your mouth. However, food that is sticky or slow to dissolve is just as damaging if not more so. For example, ‘healthier’ options, such as raisins, can be just as bad as sweets as they tend to stick to the teeth and can take a long time to flush completely down the digestive tract. Jellybeans actually dissolve faster than raisins in the mouth and are therefore not as destructive (although they are very high in sugar and therefore also to be avoided!). Similarly, muesli bars, crisps or biscuits tend to stay in the mouth, giving acid more time to damage tooth enamel and increasing the chance of plaque build-up. Recent research has also found that sports drinks are more erosive to tooth enamel than soft drinks, juice or cordial. Ultimately, poor general nutrition can create long-term problems for your teeth and can lead to serious dental problems such as periodontal disease.
When you eat is as important as what you eat.
Eating a meal increases saliva production, which helps to neutralise the destructive effects of bacteria. However, if damaging foods are eaten outside of meal times, the acids can stay on the teeth for up to 40 minutes. The more snacks you eat, the more opportunity for acidic plaque to build up. In other words, sugary food eaten as part of a main meal (such as dessert) will create less damage than snacking on sweets through the day.
Better Diet, Healthier Mouth
Water is a key ingredient in reducing the damage caused by plaque. Drinking water after a meal washes out the mouth and reduces the chance of bacteria taking hold. The fluoride added to our water supply has been overwhelmingly proven to reduce the formation of dental caries. However you should also use toothpaste with fluoride added or use a neutral fluoride-containing mouth rinse. A healthy diet is also crucial for good teeth and gums. Choose whole grain bread or rice over white and lots of vegetables and firm fruits, such as apples, fish, nuts and seeds for protein and anything that contains calcium, beneficial for stronger teeth, such as milk products.
Food that increases saliva production helps neutralise the effects of oral bacteria. Aged cheese can help buffer acid if eaten after a meal. Sugarless chewing gum containing xylitol has been shown to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
And of course, brushing and flossing after each meal is your first and best defence against damaging bacteria and plaque.
Call Reva Dental on 056 776 3786 to schedule your appointment. You may be eligible for a free check-up; see www.revadental.ie