The foods we eat can have a definite impact on our overall oral health. Would you like to be cavity free for your next dental appointment? Pair these handy tips with proper oral health care (including brushing and flossing regularly) and you may be!
Dental caries (or cavities) are an oral infectious disease, which eventually lead to the demineralization of tooth enamel. For a cavity to develop, four factors must be present simultaneously. Firstly, a susceptible tooth surface must be exposed. This, combined with the presence of oral bacteria (or plaque) and fermentable carbohydrates in the diet (food for the oral bacteria essentially) are the building blocks for developing a cavity. When oral bacteria are provided with a source of fermentable carbohydrate (which we will discuss in further detail!) they begin to turn the carbohydrates into acids. The increasing acidity of the saliva is actually what causes the demineralization process to begin.
So, what are fermentable carbohydrates? And how can nutrition play a role in oral health?
Fermentable carbohydrates are a particular kind of carbohydrate, which happen to be used most efficiently as “food” for oral bacteria. Fermentable carbohydrates are found in three food groups, including the grains, fruit and dairy groups.
While fermentable carbohydrates are most efficiently used by oral bacteria, it is also important to consider the cariogenicity of foods. Cariogenicity is described as the “cavity promoting” properties of a food.
The cariogenicity of foods depends upon:
• how often the food is eaten
• whether the food is liquid, solid or slowly dissolving
• the sequence in which foods and beverages are eaten
• the combination of foods eaten
• the nutrient composition of foods and beverages
•the duration of the exposure of the food to the teeth
Well known carogenic or “cavity promoting” foods include crackers, pretzels, cereals, breads, fruits and fruit juices, sodas, iced teas, desserts, cookies, candies and cake products. All dietary forms of sugar including honey, molasses, brown sugar, and corn syrup solids are also cariogenic.
It is important to note that the form of the food you eat can have a significant effect on the level of carogenicity-as the form of food (solid or liquid) determines how long the food will be in your mouth. Solid foods, like crackers, chips, pretzels, dry cereals and cookies can stick between the teeth and cause cavities.
On the other hand, chewy foods are actually helpful, because they stimulate saliva production. Saliva acts as a buffer to acidity and also helps clear fermentable carbohydrates from the oral cavity. Chewing sugar free gum in between meals and snacks can help prevent cavities, because it helps promote saliva production.
The good news is, if cariogenic foods are paired with cariostatic foods (foods that do not contribute to tooth decay), then the chances of developing a cavity are decreased. Cariostatic foods for vegans or vegetarians include eggs, most vegetables, popcorn and sugarless gum. Nuts and seeds, which are high in fat and dietary fiber, are also cariostatic.
Dairy products and alternatives are excellent foods for good oral health. Dairy products and alternatives such as soy and almond milk-contain calcium and phosphorus-which provide a natural buffer to acidity and help decrease the risk of developing cavities.
Here’s what you can do at home to ensure you have the best possible oral health:
• Have starchy, sticky or sugary foods with non-sugary foods
• Combine dairy products or alternatives with a meal or snack
• Combine chewy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables with fermentable carbohydrates
• Make sure you space eating occasions at least two hours apart
• Limit bedtime snacks (especially having fermentable carbohydrates on their own)
• Combine protein with carbohydrates in snacks (vegan or vegetarian examples include: cheese and apples, nuts and fruit, almond milk and banana, yogurt and berries etc.)
• Limit the consumption of sports drinks, juices and soda
Of course, all of these tips must be combined with proper oral health care to be effective. Please ensure that you refer to a Dental Professional or a Registered Dietician for further information. Best of luck to you at your next dental appointment!
Post by: Nora Heighton
References: Mahan, L.K.,Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J.L. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process.13th Edition. Elsevier Publishing. 2012.
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