How often you eat and what you eat plays an important part in preventing cavities. Food affects your mouth long after you eat. Eating cookies with dinner will do less damage than eating those cookies alone as a snack. Keep in mind that overall poor nutrition can be a contributing factor to periodontal (gum) disease. It can have other long term effects on your mouth as well. You can take your first steps to mouth-healthy eating by learning how food can affect your oral health.
The Immediate Effects of Food
Changes start to happen the minute you begin to eat certain foods. The bacteria in your mouth makes acid. That acid starts the process that creates cavities. All foods containing carbs eventually break down into simple sugars: glucose, fructose, maltose, and lactose. Carbs that ferment break down in your mouth. Other foods won’t break down until they travel further down the digestive tract.
Fermented carbs work with the bacteria in your mouth to form acids that begin the decaying process and eventually destroy your teeth. Sugary goods are the obvious culprits, like cookies, cake, soda and candy. But there are also less obvious culprits such as crackers, bread, bananas, and breakfast cereals.
Certain bacteria on your teeth use the sugar in these foods to produce acid. That acid dissolves the minerals inside the tooth enamel. This is call demineralization. The good news is that your teeth can regain those minerals. This is called remineralization. Saliva helps the minerals to build back up on your teeth. Fluoride and some foods can help with this as well.
Decay begins inside the tooth enamel when the minerals are being lost faster than they are being restored. The longer the food stays close to the bacteria on the tooth, the more acid is being made. Carbs can do more acid damage, but so can foods that get stuck in the cervices of your teeth.
On the bright side, some foods help to protect your teeth against cavities. This is because they increase the flow of saliva which will neutralize the acids made by the bacteria. For example, aged cheese eaten right after other food helps to buffer the acid. Chewing sugarless gum can also help. Xylitol is an ingredient in sugarless gum. This sweetener has been shown to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth. It also helps to buffer your teeth against the damaging effects of acid. Most sugarless gums and candies help to increase saliva flow, which helps combat the damaging acid.
The Long-Term Effects
Your body depends on overall good nutrition to stay healthy and so do your teeth. Your mouth is very sensitive to poor nutrition. It can lead to tooth loss, serious gum disease, and bad breath.
The best current advice for overall good nutrition is found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Human Services. The guidelines are simple:
- Eat whole grains instead of refined grains
- Eat dark green and orange vegetables
- Eat a variety of fruits
- Choose fish, beans, nuts, and seeds for protein
- Keep your sugar intake minimal
- Use less salt
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise daily
The foods you eat and how often you eat them can affect the health of your teeth and gums. You must make wise choices to protect your dental health. At Simply Smiles Dentistry, our staff can educate you on the proper nutrition to help you maintain a strong and healthy smile.
Until next time…Keep on Smiling!