The impact of food and drink on dental health is frequently under-estimated. Food, and how we eat it, is just as important to good dental health as regular brushing and flossing – the old saying ‘you are what you eat’ has particular resonance for healthy teeth.
Acid – whether present in the food and drink consumed or produced by bacteria – is the tooth’s worst enemy. In order to minimise the damage caused by acid it is essential to consume foods that will neutralise those acids as well provide the minerals and vitamins required to repair tooth enamel and stimulate production of saliva.
Fruit and vegetables
High fibre foods – such as fruit and vegetables – are excellent at cleansing the mouth. Fibre rich foods will, effectively, scrub the teeth and stimulate saliva production. Saliva, with its high content of calcium and phosphates, is essential to dental health as it neutralises harmful acids and replenishes those minerals destroyed by bacterial acid.
Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content that helps reduce the effects of their sugar content. Fresh fruit and vegetables, along with other high fibre foods, are essential for a healthy well balanced diet and provide many benefits to overall health not just dental health.
Water is the primary component of saliva and essential to dental health. Water should be consumed after eating or drinking in order to rinse the mouth – this is particularly important after sugary products have been ingested. Fluorinated water may help prevent tooth decay as it strengthens tooth enamel.
The benefits of unsweetened dairy products to dental health are numerous. Most dairy products are calcium rich and provide phosphates and Vitamin D – essential in the processing of calcium. Cheese is recognised as a stimulant for saliva and replenishes lost minerals from the teeth.
Sugar free gum
Sugar free gum is useful tools in maintaining dental health. Sugar free gum stimulates saliva production and act as a cleansing agent after eating or drinking. Gums containing xylitol are thought to have that added benefit of fighting or preventing tooth decay.
Tea – green or black
The polyphenols found in green and black tea are known to kill or suppress the bacteria responsible for the formation of oral plaque. These polyphenols are also found in coffee and cocoa
Nuts, including peanuts, almonds, cashews, and walnuts provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to dental health.
Choose nutrient rich foods
A healthy, well balanced diet will benefit oral health as well as overall health. Choosing nutrient rich foods such as lean protein, fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fortified cereals, pulses and legumes will help maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Foods to avoid
A number of foods and drinks should be avoided in order to maintain good dental health. These include –
• Carbonated drinks – even diet carbonated drinks are bad for teeth due to their high acid content
• Unhealthy sources of vitamins – health drinks or vitamin waters containing high levels of acid and sugars should be avoided by those hoping to maintain good dental health, drinking plain water is a much better choice. Vitamin supplements that are designed to be chewed generally contain high levels of acid and/or sugar that may cling to and between teeth.
• Products that cause a dry mouth – often a side effect of medication or excessive alcohol consumption it is important to keep the mouth properly hydrated in order to minimise any risk to teeth and gums
• Candy that is long lasting and sticky – the length of time teeth are exposed to sugars and/or acids increases the risk of tooth decay and other dental problems, sugar should be in the mouth for as short a time as possible
• Dried fruits – dried fruits contain concentrated levels of sugar and are packed with non-soluble cellulose fibre, this has the effect of binding and trapping sugars on and around the teeth in a similar way to chewy candy bars.
• Starchy foods – starchy foods easily lodge between the teeth and may begin converting their starch content to sugar almost immediately
• Foods and drinks with a high acid content – citrus fruits and drinks contain citric acid, this acid is extremely powerful, food items in this group should be consumed quickly, and the mouth should then be carefully rinsed. Sucking on citrus fruits should be avoided at all costs.
Looking after your teeth
Whilst teeth are extremely tough and designed to last a normal lifetime, they do need some loving care and attention
• Avoid crunching ice, popcorn etc
• Use a straw when drinking, avoid swishing drinks through the teeth
• Use water as a rinse after eating and drinking
• Take care when brushing – after eating or drinking it is best to rinse with plain water and then wait at least thirty minutes before brushing in order to reduce damage to teeth enamel.