You Are What You Eat: How Your Diet Affects Your Oral Health
As Holistic practitioners, we pride ourselves on understanding how we must treat our bodies in an effort to ensure they are as healthy as they can possibly be, inside and out. The process towards maximal health is multifaceted and complicated, however, our goal is to make this process easy for our clients to understand and for us to provide avenues where our patients can live healthily and happily through different sorts of practices, including dietary habits.
The old saying goes, “you are what you eat,” and nothing rings truer when it comes to your Oral Health. One’s diet is directly connected to the health of their teeth and gums—good and bad! We already know the biggest culprit to poor oral health is sugar, but this cavity-causing substance is found in many foods. Coffee and wine also get a bad rap for their staining power, but did you know that alcohol and acid are more significant issues? Let’s take a look at some of the worst and best foods for your mouth that you may not know to play a role in its state of health.
Healthy Foods with Hidden Dangers for Your Smile
Some of the biggest offenders may shock you, as they are considered to be healthy.
- Black Tea – a major player in the category of discoloration. Moderation!
- Grapefruit and lemons – “diet” staples, the acid in these fruits is hard on your teeth. A historic cure for scurvy, many don’t think about these fruits as offenders.
- Dried fruit – Double whammy. Concentrated sugar AND sticky.
- Sports drinks – sneaky sugar and high acid? There are better ways to rehydrate and get electrolytes after a hard workout. These can actually be worse for you than soda!
- Flavored water is a popular “diet” fad, especially adding lemon and other citrus fruit to water. Most people, however, choose to sip, which prolongs exposure. Using a straw can help keep the acid from damaging teeth.
- Vinegar shots and Kombucha – the health benefits are enormous, but so are the acid levels.
How Can Healthy Foods Be Bad for My Mouth?
Let’s break this down into three main categories: sugar, acids, and alcohol. Sugar is the most obvious. Candy (especially of the sticky variety) and soda are things our dentists have told us to stay away from for years! But sugar is sneaky and hides in a variety of everyday foods, such as bread and pasta. These are staples in many of our diets, and many people are unaware of the hidden dangers in store for our teeth and gums. Any sugar that makes contact with our teeth and sticks around (sometimes literally) is an invitation for harmful bacteria found in plaque to start causing damage. Acids can also be dangerous, causing the protective enamel on our teeth to thin and break down over time, causing sensitivity and cavities. Acids are commonly found in soft drinks, but a diet high in tomatoes, pickled items, alcohol, and coffee can be just as bad. Alcohol packs a double punch, not only being acidic but also causing dry mouth. Saliva is the body’s natural acid neutralizer, so when it’s inhibited, your mouth breeds bacteria that cause bad breath and tooth decay. If you’re adding up all the drinks or food we’ve mentioned so far and are thinking, “I don’t eat much of that, so I’m safe,” you may want to keep reading.
But What About My Favorite Foods that Are Bad for My Teeth and Gums! Do I Have to Give Them Up?
So, how can we balance or reverse the effects of these damage-causing foods and drinks? We’re not telling you to put down that iced macchiato and go cold turkey. Moderation is key. If you know you’ll be consuming food or drink that is sweet or acidic, balance it with something to counter the effects, like dairy, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish and lean meats contain low acid levels and are rich in vitamins and minerals, which promote oral health! Drinking plenty of water during and in between meals is also essential. It’s a little obvious, but water will rinse food particles away and prevent dry mouth. While it’s often a good idea to brush your teeth after a meal, doing so after consuming something acidic could make things worse! Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to prevent additional damage to your teeth and gums. If you’re out and about and unable to brush your teeth after every meal, chewing sugar-free gum after eating can promote saliva production to help clean your mouth in a pinch. And we know it’s hard to remember, but floss! This is the best way to remove plaque, which is the leading cause of bad breath and tooth decay!
How does the food I eat affect my oral health?
An individual’s oral health is largely dependent upon the individual’s dietary habits. For instance, non-nutritious snacks, sugar-filled sodas, and fruity drinks can all lead to tooth decay. Tooth decay is entirely preventable, however, it remains to be the world’s most common chronic disease in children. The disease occurs when sugar in the mouth comes in contact with plaque, leading to acid attacking the teeth. In addition to minimizing sugar intake, it is also important to consume certain nutrients that assist in infection resistance. A terrific resource that can identify which foods are best for you is ChooseMyPlate.gov; the website includes dietary suggestions based on an individual’s physical activity. Finally, it is important to drink plenty of water and be sure to consume sufficient amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
The perspective of a holistic dentist is broad, extending beyond the prevention or treatment of dental diseases. Dr. G believes in creating a balance within your mouth and the rest of your body for a greater quality of life. Your consultation with a holistic dentist will involve a thorough examination and discussion of any concerning or ongoing medical conditions or health issues.
The role nutrition plays in oral health was most famously described by Dr. Weston Price, an early 20th-century dentist. He observed, worldwide, that people who ate the traditional whole foods of their ancestors generally showed excellent jaw development, straight dental arches (straight smiles), and no tooth decay. However, the people that adopted a “Western-style” diet of processed foods, were more likely to develop tooth decay, shrunken jaw forms, and crowded teeth. His work is best summarized in the book “The Dental Diet” by Australian dentist, Dr. Steven Lin.
Our team recommends that our patients buy their own copy and read it. This investment in time will help you appreciate how your body’s blood system is intimately connected with every tooth in your mouth. With proper nutrition, you can help your teeth heal from the inside out and maintain their health and wellness for a lifetime.
Ready To Take Control Of Your Health?
If you’re due (or past due) for an oral health assessment, or if you have questions about your oral health or integrative holistic dentistry, Holistic Dental Center New Jersey can help. Give us a call at (973) 718-5104 or contact us online for more information.