An Apple a Day Keeps the Dentist Away: Nutrition and YOUR Oral Health

Remember that old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Did you know that the same can be said about the dentist? March is National Nutrition Month, so it’s the perfect time to discuss the relationship between nutrition and your oral health! Read on to learn about the benefits that a healthy diet can provide for your smile!

The Basics

Your mouth, teeth, and gums are more than just a pretty smile. You need them for chewing and swallowing, which are the first steps of the digestive process. The mouth is the initial point of contact for all of the food that you eat, and what you put in your mouth also impacts your teeth and gums. If your nutrition is poor, the first signs will appear in your mouth. This can manifest as staining, tooth decay, gingivitis, and other issues.

Diet and Oral Health

The healthier your diet is, the healthier your mouth will be. Simple enough, right?The form of the food—whether it’s liquid, solid,sticky or slow to dissolve, can also make a difference. Solids and liquids leave the mouth quickly, whereas sticky and slow-dissolving foods tend to hang around longer and cause problems for your teeth and gums. How often you eat sugary foods and beverages and how often you eat or drink acidic foods and beverages also effects your oral health.

The Good

YOU control what you eat, and every day you can make smart and healthy decisions to keep your smile at 100 percent. There are plenty of delicious foods that are also extremely beneficial to your oral health.

  • Carrots, celery, and apples – These crunchy foods can actually help clean your teeth!
  • Plain nuts (such as unsalted almonds), yogurt, and cheese cubes – These snacks have high calcium content, which is great for helping to repair tooth enamel. In addition, protein-rich foods like meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs are the best sources of phosphorus, helping to protect enamel.
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale – These are high in vitamins and minerals as well as calcium, building teeth enamel.
  • Other fruits and vegetables - Good choices for a healthy smile since they are high in water and fiber, which balance the sugars they contain and help to clean the teeth. These foods also help stimulate saliva production, which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth and helps neutralize acid, protecting teeth from decay. Plus, many contain vitamin C (important for healthy gums and quick healing of wounds) and vitamin A (another key nutrient in building tooth enamel).

The Bad

Empty calorie foods

  • Candy (especially hard or sticky candies like lollipops, mints, taffy and caramel), sweets like cookies, cakes and muffins, and snack foods like chips are a cause for dental concern, not only because they offer no nutritional value, but because the amount and type of sugar that they contain that can adhere to teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed off these sugars, releasing acids, and that’s what leads to tooth decay.

Sugar-containing drinks

  • Soda, lemonade,juice and sweetened coffee or tea (iced or hot)—are particularly harmful because sipping them causes a constant sugar bath over teeth, which promotes tooth decay.

·Nutritious acidic foods

  • Tomatoes and citrus fruits can have acidic effects on tooth enamel, too, so eat them as part of a meal, not by themselves. Dried fruits, including raisins, are also good choices for a healthy diet, but since they are sticky and adhere to teeth, the plaque acids that they produce continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them. Opt for a piece of fresh fruit instead.

The Many Names of Sugar

Sugar is what’s called a soluble carbohydrate. Carbohydrates act like food for oral bacteria. When you consume sugar, you are giving oral bacteria what it needs to thrive. Cutting back on sugar, and other sources of simple carbohydrates that are easily fermentable, reduces your cavity risk.

Limit added sugars in your diet by reading food labels to determine the amount of added sugar in a food. Since ingredients are listed on the label in order of weight, from most to least, if one of the following terms is listed as one of the first few ingredients, it’s a good bet that food is high in sugar. Sometimes it can be hard to spot when reading food labels. Added sugar is disguised under a number of names – here are some of its aliases:

  • sugar
  • brown sugar
  • cane sugar
  • confectioner's/powdered sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • raw sugar
  • corn sweeteners
  • corn syrup
  • crystallized cane sugar
  • maltose
  • fructose
  • sucrose
  • glucose
  • dextrin
  • evaporated cane juice
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • honey
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • invert sugar
  • syrup
  • malt syrup
  • maple syrup
  • molasses

Summing It All Up

Hopefully you learned something about how nutrition and oral health go hand-in-hand! Maybe you can make some healthy changes to your diet,and keep your smile beautiful for even longer. After all, you are what you eat,and the same goes for teeth!

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