It has been established for many years now that diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates put you at higher risk of dental decay, tooth erosion, and gum disease. However, only recently have studies also revealed a more sinister connection between unhealthy diets, poor gut health and potentially life-threatening autoimmune and systemic diseases.
A healthy, balanced diet plays a major role in maintaining your enamel, the outside protective layer of your teeth and promoting a healthy gut. But what are the foods we should be eating and what are the foods we should be avoiding?
Here’s a dental diet cheat sheet to achieve healthy teeth, gums and gut this year.
Be sugar savvy
In Australia, all packaged foods sold are required to display nutritional information including sugars and carbohydrates. Check the amount of sugar in any food or drink that you’re introducing to your diet but don't rely solely on these numbers, as other factors such as glycaemic index and fiber content can both affect how your body processes sugar. Be savvy about ‘healthy’ fad foods containing hidden sugars that are actually bad for your teeth. For example, coconut water continues to be popular but contains a similar percentage of sugar to sports drinks, so it’s best to drink in moderation.
Another sugar savvy tip is reducing the duration and frequency of sugar-induced acid attack, that is to say if you're going to eat sugary foods, try to eat them over a short period of time, rather than sipping or snacking over longer periods. When sugar is consumed it interacts with bacteria in plaque that naturally coats the teeth and gums. The bacteria feed on the sugar and produce acids that weaken the tooth’s enamel, so if teeth are exposed to these acids frequently and not properly and regularly cleaned, they can decay to form holes or cavities. A high-sugar, low-fiber diet can also impact your gut health, leading to digestive discomfort, bloating and a change in bowel motions so it’s important to be savvy about the sugar in your diet and its effects on your body.
The sugar-free diet explained
Advocates eliminating all forms of sugar from your diet
Whole grains, nuts, eggs, cheese, bananas, fresh vegetables, fish, lean meat and plenty of water should make up a large portion of your diet to counteract the effects of acid on your enamel. These foods help protect the tooth’s enamel by working with saliva to neutralize dietary acids and providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to restore these essential minerals to the enamel.
While it’s not necessary to avoid all acidic foods, especially those with health benefits like oranges and lemons, have a glass of water afterward to dilute the acid content. My least favorite health fad would have to be fresh citrus fruit in your water. I've recently seen a worrying number of cases of severe sensitivity from enamel erosion caused by sipping on citrus fruits in water all day.
Nutrients, nutrients and more nutrients
Try integrating as many mouth-healthy nutrients and minerals into your diet as possible. Research shows that oral health issues like periodontal disease can be associated with lower blood levels of vitamins and minerals.
My top vitamin-rich foods for a healthy mouth and bright, shiny enamel include:
- High-quality proteins: Eggs, dairy, beans/legumes and meat (these help strengthen the enamel and tooth structure)
- Calcium: Almonds, broccoli, cheese, yogurt, soy and leafy greens (these help strengthen your jaw bone and tooth structure)
- Omega-3 healthy fats: Fatty fish, flax/linseeds, walnuts and chia seeds (these help reduce gum inflammation)
- Vitamin A, C & D: Almonds, eggs, capsicum, cauliflower and sweet potato (these help absorb calcium to make your teeth strong and remineralize the enamel)
- Zinc: Shelled sunflower seeds, seafood, whole grains and red meat (these help absorb calcium and repair mouth tissue)
Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for both your digestion and oral health. Swishing water vigorously around in your mouth is an effective way to remove food particles and drink residue from your teeth after eating or drinking, leaving you with fresher breath, fewer stains and a lower chance of decay.
Water helps replenish your saliva which creates a buffer for the tooth’s enamel from the bacteria in plaque responsible for decay. Fluoride, contained in tap water, and natural minerals contained in saliva help repair weakened enamel, so a fresh, healthy, hydrated mouth is only as far as the sink.
Fiber is your friend
Leafy vegetables and other high-fiber foods like avocados, cabbage, carrots and broccoli not only promote healthy cholesterol levels and enhance detoxification in your gut but also do wonders for your teeth—mostly because they require a lot of chewing.
Eating a bowl of spinach or beans is a bit like running your teeth through a car wash. All that chewing generates saliva, and the food itself physically scrubs your teeth as it's mashed up into little pieces. Chewing is the first step in digestion and saliva contains enzymes that help with breaking down food in your mouth, so make sure you slow down and chew your food properly.
Sugar-free chewing gum gets a dental thumbs-up. The primary benefit of chewing sugar-free gum is that it helps to remove the build-up of food particles from the surfaces of your teeth after eating. The chewing action also stimulates saliva production that helps eliminate food particles in the mouth, neutralizes acids that contribute to tooth decay, and strengthens the tooth’s enamel. When selecting your sugar-free gum you want to look for brands that contain Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sweetener.
Unlike sugar, Xylitol isn’t able to be broken down by bacteria into acid, so the volume of bacteria in your mouth decreases with chewing. Chewing gum is fine in moderation, however, if you notice you’re beginning to favor chewing on one side over the other, or experience sensitivity, it’s important to see your dentist. Chewing gum is by no means a replacement for good oral hygiene including daily flossing, twice daily brushing, and regular cleans and check-ups at your dentist.
Dr. Rick Iskandar is a Philips Sonicare Spokesperson and dentist at Tailored Teeth Dental & Cosmetics.
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