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There is more to good oral health than your daily oral hygiene and avoiding sweets.

We’ve partnered with The Health Nutritionist to provide you with some information on how diet can boost your oral health.

Firstly, can diet help?

Diet choices and their links to oral health have been cited in scientific journals for years.

Interestingly, it is not just the level of sugar in your diet that causes decay, but how frequently you have sugar in your diet that can cause problems.1,2

Acid is produced when bacteria in your mouth break down sugar. It takes up to an hour for your saliva to cancel out this acidity in your mouth, returning it to its natural balance. During this time your teeth are under attack from this acid.

It is therefore important to limit the amount of time your mouth remains exposed to sugar, as if this acid attack happens too often, your mouth does not have a chance to repair itself.

A good tip would be to limit sugary foods and drinks just at mealtimes, but by also incorporating other types of foods into your diet like the ones listed below.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for strong bones and healthy teeth. Milk is a great source, and yoghurt and cheese, which are rich in calcium. Milk and cheese are also good because it helps to cancel out the acids in your mouth, so finishing a meal with a slice of cheese or a small glass of milk can help too.  3

Some oily fish containing bones that you can eat, such as canned sardines or tinned salmon, can also help increase your calcium intake.

If you’re a vegan, you could opt for soy alternatives or tofu. Sesame seeds and figs are other great plant-based sources of calcium for those who don’t eat fish.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These are important for reducing inflammation of gums.

Omega-3s can drastically reduce the signs of diseases affecting the structures surrounding and supporting the teeth. 4

They can be found in fish, such as sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel, and tuna, and can also be consumed in the form of fish oil liquid or capsules for those who do not eat fish.

Also, the following plant-based foods contain good levels omega-3s:

  • nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts and pumpkin seeds)
  • vegetable oils (e.g. rapeseed and linseed)
  • soya and soya products (e.g. beans, milk and tofu)
  • green leafy vegetables.

Green vegetables

Healthy greens, such as vegetables that are dark and leafy, like spinach, kale and collard greens contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants - are essential for immune function.

For example, Vitamin C aids collagen maturation which helps maintain the integrity of the connective tissue in the gums and surrounding teeth. Leafy greens are also a great source of calcium.

Hydration

It’s vital to drink enough water throughout the day.

Not only is consistent hydration crucial for overall health, but it keeps saliva production high. The more saliva you produce, the more effective your mouth becomes at digesting food particles, which if left in the mouth for too long, can create a breeding ground for bacteria and plaque development.

Is there anything I should be cautious of?

There are some foods that can have a negative impact on oral health and cause dental erosion.

Acidic foods and drinks - sugary fizzy drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and wine can be acidic which can cause decay and dental erosion.

Regarding athletes however, it is important they avoid dehydration, so a homemade isotonic drink of is a great way to avoid additional nasties on the teeth.

This can easily be made up with:

  • 100ml squash / cordial (not ‘reduced sugar’ variety - or else it won’t contain the carbs that sports drinks typically provide),
  • 400ml water
  • pinch of salt
  • Natural sweetener to taste

It is also important to be aware of the effect of fruit and fruit juices on teeth, particularly citrus ones including lemon and orange. Citrus fruits contain natural acids which can be harmful to your teeth in excess amounts as they gradually wear away the hard enamel coating of the tooth. This may lead to the tooth being sensitive, so it is best to consume fruit juices with a straw, and no more than 150ml a day  (roughly a small glass).5

Alcohol

Drunk in large quantities, certain types of alcohol may erode the outer surface of the teeth and harm the enamel. This includes beer, cider, and prosecco.

Carbonated drinks such as flavoured fizzy waters, fizzy mixers and tonics could also lead to erosion if drunk in large amounts, as they contain weak acids which can harm your teeth.

Even sugar free or ‘diet’ versions can cause damage, as they are still highly acidic.

Any other advice?

As mentioned previously, it will help to have sweet food around mealtimes to limit the attack of sugars on your teeth at other timepoints in the day. Thus, it is better for the health of your teeth to eat three meals a day instead of having seven snacks. If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar, and choose more savoury options such as cheese, raw vegetables, nuts, or yoghurt. Fruit does contain natural sugars, but this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount.

Ultimately, a diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease and keep teeth in tip-top condition. Plain, still water is the best drink for teeth. It is important to note that sweet foods can be incorporated as part of a healthy, balanced diet when consumed in moderation. 

By Abigail (ANutr) Health Nutritionist Clinic

Abigail’s works at Health Nutritionist and her particular interests are in gut health, and she works on both weight management, diabetes and heart health. As well as supporting athletes and active individuals meet their nutritional requirements.

@the-health-nutritionist 


References 

  1. Van Loveren, C., 2019. Sugar restriction for caries prevention: amount and frequency. Which is more important?. Caries research, 53(2), pp.168-175.

  2. Gupta, P., Gupta, N., Pawar, A.P., Birajdar, S.S., Natt, A.S. and Singh, H.P., 2013. Role of sugar and sugar substitutes in dental caries: a review. International Scholarly Research Notices, 2013.

  3. Oral Health Foundation (UK) - https://www.dentalhealth.org/dental-erosion

  4. Naqvi, A. Z., Buettner, C., Phillips, R. S., Davis, R. B., & Mukamal, K. J. (2010). n-3 fatty acids and periodontitis in US adults. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(11), 1669–1675. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2010.08.009

  5. NHS guidelines: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/lifestyle-tips-for-healthy-teeth/