As the old cliché goes, you are what you eat, and I believe it. For instance, who doesn’t think fruitcake eaters are slightly nutty, or honey lovers tend to be a bit sweet, and we all know if you’re brave enough to try roadkill, well, you’re probably dead meat. Of course, I can’t take all the credit for the cheesy jokes (it’s probably the pizza), but I can offer some insight on how your diet can affect your oral health.
When you think about it, every bit of food and ounce of drink that goes into our body enters through our mouth. This means your teeth and gums immediately withstand the effects of the type of food you put in your body, and the food that is good for your overall health tends to be what is good for your oral health as well. Therefore, making healthy choices for your teeth and gums can help your overall health and vice versa.
To understand how food affects our oral health, we need to first understand the physiology of our mouths. There are over 600 types of oral bacteria in our mouth and they all thrive on both carbohydrates and acidic environments. Bacteria use carbohydrates and sugars for energy and growth and produce the bi-product of acid. The establishment of an acidic environment coupled with fermentation of sugars allows bacteria to proliferate and colonize in our teeth and gums. This eventually can lead to both tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
To combat this bacterial growth, there are several approaches that can be taken by altering our diet. The first is to limit sugars and carbohydrates, not just in amount, but also in frequency. By decreasing the duration our mouths are exposed to carbohydrates allow our saliva to buffer the acidity to slow bacterial growth.
Fruits and vegetables also have a washing effect that can help remove bacteria. It is also important to limit acidic foods like sodas, excessive citrus, etc. Adding dairy to our diet like milk and cheeses can also raise the pH and lower the acidity of our mouths.
Finally, to avoid affecting the aesthetics of our teeth, we should limit our exposure to foods that can stain our teeth like coffee, wine, or certain teas and soups. Of course, the very best way to remove bacteria, lower acidity, and prevent staining is to brush and floss after every meal.
Certainly, food should always be taken in context, and when done so can be just as enjoyable as, well, a dental visit. Happy eating and happy smiling!