Chattanooga Preventive DentistryPart of our mission for Chattanooga Preventive Dentistry is encouraging and educating patients to achieve a more balanced, healthy life in general. Poor nutrition affects oral health in ways that may not seem as obvious as usual culprits of gum disease or cavities.
Eating for Healthy Gums and Teeth
Foods that can Damage Teeth and GumsYou’ve probably already guessed what we are going to say. The American Dental Association (ADA) has promoted the message for years: Junk Food is bad for you and your teeth. Sugars are easily the arch-nemesis of many a dentist. Cake, cookies, candies, milk, and other sugary foods may taste delicious but these can cause tooth decay. Starchy foods like pretzels and potato chips aren’t good for teeth either. The longer these carbohydrates stay on the teeth, the more damage is done.
Non-Food Consumables that can Damage Teeth and GumsThis time of year, a lot of people get a cough. Cough drops may contribute to tooth decay. The next time you have one in your mouth, run your tongue over the front of your teeth and you can feel it leaving a coating. The same concept applies to lollipops, hard candies, and mints.
More Fruits and Vegetables = Nutritious DietsMore nutritious choices can include raw vegetables, fruits, plain yogurt, and non-microwave popcorn. Other nutrient-dense foods include salmon, seaweed, garlic, shellfish, potatoes, liver, sardines, blueberries, and egg yolks. Studies show these foods contain powerful antioxidants, can help us lose weight, lower blood pressure, and help to fight cancer. Potatoes can be very filling while also high in potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese, plus vitamin C and most B vitamins. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry, and fish. Try and vary your protein choices to include eggs, beans, peas, and legumes, too. Fortified soy drinks and tofu, canned salmon, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables all help to promote strong teeth and bones. Phosphorus, found in eggs, fish, lean meat, dairy, nuts, and beans is good for strong teeth. Vitamin C promotes gum health, so eat plenty of citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and spinach.
Strategies for Better Nutrition for Improved Oral Health
It’s easy enough to grasp what’s good or bad for us, but how are we to actually put better eating habits to work? There are a few suggestions you may want to try if you’ve always wanted to eat better but weren’t sure how to make it happen…
- Limit sugar to part of a complete meal rather than as snacks throughout the day. A sweet dessert immediately following the entrée is the best time. Why? Because mealtime usually means increased saliva in the mouth, which always makes it easier to wash food particles away from the teeth. Swallowing a beverage at mealtime amplifies this process.
- Substitute cheese for snacks instead of sugary, sticky and chewy foods. Snacks like raisins, dried figs, granola bars, oatmeal or peanut butter cookies, jelly beans, caramel, honey, molasses, and syrup all tend to stick to teeth, whereas cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and other aged cheeses at least trigger the production of saliva to help wash food particles away.
- Substitute water instead of milk, formula, juice, or soda. Even milk contains sugar; water doesn’t. Adding more water aids in washing away food clinging to teeth. Some sports and energy drinks contain a lot of sugar, as you’d expect.
- Reduce the frequency of snacking to two or three times per day. That’s more important than how much is eaten per snacking session, so remember it is frequency rather than quantity. Frequent bouts of snacking, without brushing teeth after, create more opportunities for bacteria to grow, increasing the likelihood of plaque developing on teeth and around gums.
- Sometimes the best way to make sure you eat better is to make better decisions at the grocery store. Look for foods that come unsweetened or sugar-free. Foods with the sugar substitute xylitol can potentially help to prevent cavities.
- Check the sugar content in everything you eat or drink before buying -- spaghetti sauce, cereal, and canned fruit may be loaded with a lot of sugar.
- While reducing unhealthy foods from your diet, add more of the ones that are better for you. Good sources of calcium like broccoli and yogurt add calcium to your diet. Calcium, as we know, is good for strengthening bones, including the teeth.
- When all else fails and you backslide on your old dietary habits, continue to use fluoride and brush and floss teeth every day to reverse tooth decay. A fluoride mouthwash also helps.
- Get kids in the habit of brushing between meals and flossing at least once a day. If no toothbrush is available during the day, rinse the mouth with water several times to at least remove those pesky particles between teeth and below the gum line.
- Beware of kids’ foods loaded with sugar like many breakfast cereals, trying a whole-grain cereal instead.
How to Transition to a Healthy Eating Lifestyle
How do you get the family to skip candy, cookies, and cake to instead munch on kale? Follow a process to gradually wean yourself of these unhealthy foods and replace them with healthier alternatives. It is important to always replace bad food with healthy food that you enjoy. For example, eat fruits as snacks, drink water instead of soda, eat whole grain bread instead of white bread, add steamed greens to dinner, focus on poultry and seafood while limiting intake of red meats, make homemade pizza instead of ordering, and snack on nuts like unsalted peanuts or raw almonds instead of potato chips. Berries can offer a sweet substitute to satisfy sweet cravings instead of sugar-loaded chocolate candy.
Regardless of how it is achieved, fruits and vegetables need to make up half of what is eaten daily, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You don’t have to become a vegetarian to eat better, but you’ll end up healthier the more you transition away from sugary foods and starches to dishes that grow out of the ground instead of coming in a can. With these healthy eating guidelines, you can reduce your risk of enamel erosion and cavities to keep your smile looking healthier, plus you may just live longer too.