If the eyes are a window to our soul, the teeth and gums are a window to our bodies.
The importance of dental health is often underrated. The pathway to a healthy body starts in the oral cavity, and poor dental nutrition affects the whole body. In fact, the first sign of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and gastroesophageal reflux can initially be detected while examining the teeth and gums. Similarly, nutritional deficiencies seen throughout the body start in the oral cavity. Cavities and periodontal disease are key indicators of poor dental nutrition that could eventually affect the entire body.
Implementing simple dietary guidelines including mindful eating and smart food choices promote proper dental nutrition and ultimately whole-body health by preventing tooth decay and gingival disease. This blog will provide general dietary information to promote whole-body health through proper dental nutrition. We encourage you to share this info with your staff and patients!
Proper dental nutrition starts with a balanced diet. The right amount of calcium and phosphorus are necessary to protect and rebuild tooth enamel. Because of their high fiber and water content, fruits and vegetables are also helpful in attaining proper dental nutrition. Eating these foods stimulates saliva which neutralizes acid and protects teeth from decay. Citrus fruits contain vitamin C, which is important for healthy gums. Green leafy vegetables, as well as carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A and promote strong tooth enamel. As for fluids, fluoridated water is the best choice. Sparkling water does not injure the teeth, but it is imperative to check the ingredients to see if there are any harmful additives.
Here are some general recommendations when advising patients on proper dental nutrition:
Foods to Include:
- Cacao nibs. There are many health benefits from eating dark chocolate or cacao nibs. Dark chocolate is well known as a healthy treat due to its high cacao and low sugar content. In addition, a study from 2009 showed that polyphenols in cacao killed cavity-causing bacteria and created a barrier between the teeth and plaque. Ten years later, another study found that cacao bean mouth rinse destroyed a certain type of bacteria that is responsible for causing most cavities.
- Grass-fed dairy products. Dairy products such as cheese and butter are high in vitamin K2. Many people are deficient in vitamin K2, which can lead to cardiovascular problems such as atherosclerosis. However, dairy cows are often fed grain and corn which does not result in a dairy product rich in vitamin K2. In order to produce dairy rich in vitamin K2, you need chlorophyll — which is found in higher concentrations with grass-fed animals.
- Green and black teas. Like cacao, both teas contain polyphenols which destroy bacteria in the mouth. Get an added health benefit by brewing your tea with fluoridated water!
- Sugarless chewing gum. Chewing on sugarless gum increases saliva production which will assist in removing any remaining food particles from the mouth.
- Fatty fish. Salmon, tuna and trout are considered fatty fish and contain significant amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D, a well-known fat-soluble vitamin, is crucial to almost every system in the body, including the teeth! Vitamin D works in tandem with other vitamins found in a well-balanced diet to strengthen tooth enamel. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are also found in these fish and are known to support gum health and possibly combat periodontitis.
Foods to Avoid:
- Dried fruit. Many believe dried fruit is a healthy option for snacking. Dried fruit mainly consists of sugar because all the water is removed during processing. This may lead to dental caries. Whole fruit is always the better option.
- Kombucha. This new and trendy drink is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. However, depending on the brand, kombucha can contain large amounts of sugars. To maintain good oral health while drinking these products, rinse your mouth with water immediately after finishing the drink and brush your teeth 45 minutes later. When purchasing kombucha, make sure there are visible particles in the bottle and no added sugars.
- Beans and lentils. Beans and lentils are another healthy food and a staple in the vegetarian and vegan diet. However, they contain phytic acid which contributes to tooth decay. Phytic acid binds to a number of vitamins and minerals and may make it difficult for the teeth to absorb them. This problem is easily avoidable by soaking your beans, lentils and grains overnight before eating them. Alternatively, you may want to consider sprouted grains which contain much less phytic acid.
- Carbonated soft drinks (including diet soda). Carbonated soft drinks contain substantial amounts of sugar. All carbonated soft drinks, including diet sodas, contain phosphoric and citric acids that wear away tooth enamel.
- Sports drinks. Sports drinks are also highly acidic and can harm tooth enamel. Because athletes sip on these drinks through a water bottle many times during a training session, the enamel on the front teeth may be affected. Drinking one sports drink a day (or even a few each week) can negatively impact your dental health. Additionally, artificial dyes in sports drinks can stain your teeth.
- Crackers and other starchy snacks. These types of snacks are high in carbohydrates which break down into sugar with chewing. Sugar feeds bacteria, which can lead to plague and tooth decay. Instead of reaching for traditional crackers made from wheat, consider implementing products made with seeds and nuts.
Oral health is directly related to overall health, and it starts with proper nutrition. The condition of our teeth and gums, as well as the nutrients we take in, directly affect our whole-body health. Conversely, poor dental nutrition can contribute to conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Implementing mindful eating habits is a great way to protect yourself from disease and live a well-balanced life!
For more information on oral health, read:
- 9 Foods That Damage Your Teeth from MouthHealthy and the American Dental Association (ADA)
- Key Points on Nutrition and Oral Health from the ADA
- Oral Health and Nutrition from the Harvard University School of Public Health
These are also great articles to share with your patients!
For advice on patient communication, MLMIC policyholders can contact a team of risk management professionals 24/7 at no additional cost by calling (844) MMS-LAW1 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dental professionals can stay up to date on the latest risk management guidance and alerts by reading The Handbook for Practicing Dentists, monitoring the MLMIC Dental blog, The Scope: Dental Edition and Dental Impressions and following us on Twitter and LinkedIn.