We have always been taught that brushing and flossing is key to good dental health. But is there more to it? It is becoming more and more clear that our nutrition and eating habits are also key factors in dental health. Having good nutrition and healthy eating habits can have a big impact on tooth decay and dental erosion.
Tooth decay is a complex disease process with multiple contributing factors. Plaque constantly builds up on our teeth; it is made of many different types of bacteria. The bacteria use the sugars we eat and drink to grow and colonize and produce an acid by-product. The acid dissolves the tooth’s protective surface. Our saliva will help wash away some of these acids and act to buffer their effects but if these acid attacks occur too frequently then our saliva won’t be able to repair the damage quickly enough and eventually the tooth surface will break down creating a cavity.
Our eating habits can have a big impact on the development or prevention of tooth decay. With sugary foods it’s all about form, frequency and amount that will affect the development of tooth decay. Solid foods clear the mouth slowly and sticky ones are even worse. Frequent snacks throughout the day without adequate rest time between means more acid attacks on the tooth enamel from all the acid producing plaque.
‘Sugary foods’ aren’t just lollies, but foods made from simple fermentable carbohydrates. For example, potato crisps, dried fruits, certain cereals, and snack bars. A lot of food available is quite highly processed and often high in hidden sugar. It is important to understand what is in the food you are eating and make informed and healthy choices.
So, what can we eat that helps our teeth?
There are plenty of food options that can have a positive effect on our dental and general health. There is a lot of research that indicates the importance of eating a diet rich in minerals and vitamins; in particular, Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Highly processed foods often lack many of these vital components so there is a lot to be said for eating a wholefood, natural diet. High in vegetables, pasture raised protein and healthy fats. When visiting the grocery shop a lot of these options can be found by shopping around the outer edges of the shop.
So, if no matter how much effort you are putting into cleaning your teeth you still find yourself needing fillings, it might be time to re-evaluate what you are eating and how you are fuelling your body.
Dr Ellen Rogers BDSc