The teeth you have now and the gums that support them perform very important functions, and they’re on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doing things like chewing and breaking down food enough for it to start its journey through your digestive system. Not surprisingly, the foods you eat throughout your day can have a significant impact on your oral health in both good and not-so-positive ways. Take a moment to understand how your diet may affect your dental health.
Preventing Periodontal Disease and Tooth Decay
A diet that’s lacking in sufficient amounts of vitamin C and D can increase the risk of developing serious issues with periodontal disease. Part of the reason for this is because a jawbone that is weaker from a lack of sufficient nutrients. Calcium especially isn’t able to provide as much support to teeth and gums. The foods you eat can also help minimize the inflammation that’s characteristic of periodontal disease.
Sugary foods and drinks can accelerate the decay of teeth that can eventually led to the pockets of inflammation within gum tissues that is characteristic of periodontal disease. Instead, enjoy a diet that includes healthy, nutritious foods that naturally fight inflammation, including:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Almonds and walnuts
- Colorful fruits like blueberries, oranges, and strawberries
Producing Sufficient Saliva
The regular production of saliva is what helps keep food particles and bacteria out of the mouth throughout the day. If you’re not getting enough saliva produced in your mouth, it will be more difficult to break down food and keep debris away from your teeth and gum. For instance, particles from sugary foods you may consume could stick around in your mouth if saliva doesn’t clear everything away naturally.
Eating excessively salty foods could affect saliva production and dry your mouth to the point where parts of the foods you are eating aren’t going anywhere. Not drinking enough water could also minimize your saliva production. Follow the general rule of drinking eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Thoroughly chewing your food can also maintain a steady flow of saliva around your teeth.
Controlling Mouth Acid and pH Levels
Mouth acidity can also affect tooth decay and contribute to gum disease. Snacking too much between meals can also boost acid levels within the mouth. Vegans may have dental health issues due to a diet that lacks proper nutrients. Some strictly vegan diets call for more snacking between meals, which can decrease the pH level in the mouth and increase acidity. A pH of or near 0 indicates a high acid level.
One way to combat issues with acidity is to opt for whole fruits rather than fruit juices because fruit juices lack the fiber that can naturally ease acid levels. Drinking water while eating can also neutralize mouth acid. Regardless of your dietary preferences, naturally acidic foods that should be consumed in moderation to keep your teeth healthy include:
- Sodas and sweetened beverages
- Processed foods
- Certain high-protein foods
- Most common fruit juices
Regular brushing can definitely help prevent cavities. Yet the foods you eat on a regular basis can also have impact on whether you develop cavities, regardless of your brushing habits. Starchy, refined carbohydrates (potato chips, pasta, breads) can do just as much harm to teeth when consumed in excess as sugary snacks and beverages. In addition to containing high amounts of sugar that can cause cavities, carbonated soft drinks have a lot of phosphorous that can damage the enamel on your teeth.
Starches that are made from white flour are known as simple carbohydrates. It’s these type of carbs, in particular, that tend to stay in the mouth even after such foods are consumed. Bacteria in the mouth breaks down simple carbs into simple sugars, which may contribute to cavities. Include the following foods in your diet if you want to reduce the risk of developing cavities:
- Calcium-rich dairy products (milk, cheese, plain yogurt)
- Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
- Green and black tea varieties
- Fluoridated drinking water and anything you may make with it, such as soups and powdered drinks
Keeping Gums Healthy
The simple action of eating an apple is one step you can take to keep your gums healthy. It helps because the chewing action and the juices from the apple cause the plaque and bacteria in your mouth to come loose. Gums that are healthy are pink in appearance and firm to the touch. The foods you eat on a regular basis can affect your gums just as much as they can impact your teeth. If you’re not mindful of your diet, your gums can become easily irritated and may be susceptible to disease and progressive tissue damage. Gums that are healthy also provide added support for your teeth, which often means fewer serious dental issues.
Keeping your gums healthy with the foods you eat may also affect your heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adults with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart issues. Mucosal cells in your gums and other tissues in your mouth regenerate every 3-7 months, which means signs of poor dental health usually show up in gums first. Keep your gums as healthy as possible with a diet that includes:
- Foods with high antioxidant levels that promote healthy tissues
- Vegetables with high zinc and iron contents that can help gums stay healthy by promoting the natural healing of tissue damage
- Foods with a higher concentration of vitamin C to keep periodontal ligaments between teeth and sockets healthy
- Omega-3 fats that can minimize inflammation within gum tissues
Being mindful of your diet can be good for every aspect of your health, including your dental health. Not only will you likely have fewer cavities if you stick to a balanced, nutritional diet, but you’ll have more reasons to smile. Even if you’re careful to brush after every meal, your teeth can still be affected by what you eat. Another important step you can take to keep your teeth healthy is to see your dentist on a regular basis. Regular cleanings can remove food particles that may get stuck between your teeth and any signs of possible dental problems can be spotted early.
Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy.