It’s common knowledge that having a healthy diet is good for a healthy weight and overall health, but have you ever thought about the effects of what you eat or drink on your oral health? Chances are, you never gave it a serious thought.
However, your diet is a significant influencer of oral health, and unhealthy foods can cause the development and progression of oral diseases and conditions.
How does this happen, and what diseases can be caused by a poor choice of foods? Let’s study it in detail.
How does diet impact your oral health?
Whatever you eat or drink comes in direct contact with your teeth and continually impacts the health of your teeth and gums. If your nutrition is poor, it will cause bad breath and lead to tooth loss as well.
The two major things to look out for in your diet are sugar and acid. These have the potential to cause major damage to your teeth. Sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque (the sticky coating on your teeth) and produces harmful acids that cause tooth decay and form cavities.
On the other hand, acidic foods are just as harmful, as the acid in them ‘erodes’ or dissolves the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. Besides making your teeth look ugly, this can make your teeth sensitive to hot and cold edibles. In that case, certified dentists can help diagnose the problem well and treat it efficiently with approaches such as root canal therapy.
Bidirectional Relationship between Diet and Oral Health
One thing to note here is that the relationship between your nutrition and oral health is not unidirectional; it’s a two-way street. Just like bad foods harm your teeth and gums, poor health of your teeth and gums negatively affects the nutrients consumed.
Good digestion of nutrients depends on your ability to chew, which is directly related to healthy teeth and gums. If your teeth are misaligned or missing, or you have gum disease, chewing would be a painful act, making you swallow large chunks of food that are hard to digest.
In addition, the presence of gum disease means that bacteria in your mouth are likely to travel through your digestive tract along with the food and saliva that you swallow. This could lead to gastrointestinal disorders.
Oral Health Problems
Having understood the relationship between nutrition and oral health, the next thing to discuss are common oral health problems.
Dental caries (cavitation) occur due to loss of tooth substance by direct contact with acidic substances (in your diet) or the acids formed by bacteria present in plaque (as a result of sugary foods). The early stages of dental caries are often without symptoms, while advanced dental caries may lead to pain and severe infections.
The development of caries starts with sugars and acid but depends on the condition of the tooth, bacterial profile, quality of the saliva, and amount or frequency of sugar intake. Poor salivary flow or salivary deficiencies make some individuals more likely to suffer from such conditions.
While dental erosion is also the loss of tooth substance, there is a key difference between dental caries and erosion. The development of caries can be reversed through natural or processed remineralization, but dental erosion is a non-reversible process that results in permanent damage to the tooth structure.
Another difference lies in the type of acids that cause the decay. Bacterial acids cause dental caries, while dental erosion occurs because of dietary acids (or acids from your stomach).
Gum or Periodontal disease
Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease, and its earliest stage is identified by inflammation or minor bleeding.
It doesn’t impact deep-lying tissues and can be treated easily. However, if the plaque is not removed, it turns into a hard crust known as tartar. This stage is known as periodontitis, and it can ruin your gums and underneath tissues connected to your teeth, which is why doctors recommend it should be taken seriously and treated at the slightest of symptoms.
It is primarily caused by unhealthy habits (like not flossing or brushing your teeth regularly) and poor choice of foods. Lack of proper nutrition may also worsen periodontal and oral infectious diseases. In addition, a lack of vitamin C can further add to the pain and cause scurvy-related periodontitis.
Now that you know how things can go wrong because of a poor diet, let’s see what food is good for you.
Foods for Good Oral Health
Doctors recommend a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and fresh fruits and vegetables to help protect your teeth and gums from foul smell and diseases.
Foods that include calcium and phosphorus are good for strong teeth and healthy gums. These include milk, cheese, nuts, and meat. If you have lactose intolerance (cannot ingest milk), green vegetables like broccoli and spinach can be useful for oral health as they are high in calcium.
Similarly, crunchy fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, and carrots, are highly beneficial for teeth and gums. These foods have a high water content that helps dilute any sugars that can turn into acid and damage your teeth.
Further, fruits and vegetables help create more saliva, which helps wash away food particles out of the crevices in your teeth, gums, and tongue.
Foods to Stay Away From
Till now, you have understood well that foods containing high sugar and acidic substances are bad for your gums and teeth.
Now, let’s look at some of the foods that are damaging to our health, but we still use them regularly. They include:
- Hard and sticky foods like candies, caramel, and other sugary substances
- Excessive citrus drinks like lemonade, minty sodas, and other highly acidic drinks
- White starches, such as pasta, bread, fries, and crackers (high sugar items)
- Excessive use of coffee and tea (highly acidic substances)
- Alcoholic drinks such as wine and sugary mixed drinks
- Artificial fruit juices and sports drinks
Apart from alcohol, we have been carelessly using these harmful foods and drinks since we were young, and now we are letting our kids fall prey to them too. These are highly acidic and sugary foods that cause erosion, cavities, staining, and discoloration of teeth.
However, it is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle and put your life on the right track. So, stop consuming high sugar and acidic foods and maintain good oral hygiene to take care of your overall health!