March is National Nutrition Month. And while people often connect diet choices with their impact on weight and disease, our food choices have a direct connection to another important part of our overall well-being — our oral health.
We know that poor oral health has a direct impact on overall health, but the relationship that diet and nutrition have with oral health is bidirectional. In other words, diet and nutrition can affect the health of the tissues in your mouth, and in return, a damaged mouth can inhibit an individual’s functional ability to eat.
For those with poor diet and nutrition, the foods they eat can have damaging effects on their oral health with potential consequences including tooth decay, gum disease and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that among adults in the United States, over 25% have untreated cavities, and for adults ages 30 and older, almost half show symptoms indicating potential gum disease. The CDC also notes that poor oral health can contribute to several other diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
“Nutrition is about much more than providing our bodies with the proper nutrients and energy it needs,” Dr. Amber Bonnaig, DentaQuest’s dental director in Georgia. “Specific foods and poor dietary habits as a whole can affect your oral health. As dentists, it’s very important we communicate to our patients what foods to avoid or enjoy in moderation so they’re set up for success.”
Understanding food choices is a critical tool when it comes to good oral health. One of the biggest problems is sugar. It’s a major cause of tooth decay, especially “free sugar” added into foods like candy, soda, syrup, cake and sweet cereals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Bacteria in the mouth can easily metabolize these sugars and generate acids that break down teeth and cause tooth decay. The WHO recommends that only 5% or less of a person’s total energy intake per day should come from free sugars.
Although these foods are the “usual suspects” when it comes to negative oral health outcomes, acidic foods also have major effects. Acids cause tooth erosion, irreversible damage to the enamel that shields your teeth from decay and other diseases. The ADA says that high-acid foods include sour candies, citrus fruits and even tomatoes. Carbonation is also highly acidic, so, regardless of whether a soda is sugary or not, the bubbles increase acidity levels in carbonated drinks. The ADA recommends eating high-acid foods as part of a meal or as a once-in-a-while treat to avoid prolonged enamel erosion. When you do consume acidic foods, it’s important to wait an hour to brush your teeth and allow natural cleansing from your saliva to re-solidify your tooth enamel.
This National Nutrition Month, DentaQuest encourages you to take time to assess your nutritional and dietary habits and make adjustments for improvement. Incorporate new ingredients, plan your snacks and meals with nutritional goals in mind and add more home-cooked meals into the mix.
It won’t just help your oral health, it will impact your overall health as well.