Controlling dental health through diet

October 9, 2015

In addition to brushing and flossing, a healthful diet (with natural or added fluoride) protects teeth from decay and keeps the gums healthy. Read on to learn more.

Controlling dental health through diet

Tooth decay (cavities and dental caries) and gum disease are caused by colonies of bacteria that constantly coat the teeth with a sticky film called plaque. If plaque is not brushed away, these bacteria break down the sugars and starches in foods to produce acids that wear away the tooth enamel. The plaque also hardens into tartar, which can lead to gum inflammation or gingivitis.

A well-balanced diet provides the minerals, vitamins and other nutrients essential for healthy teeth and gums. Fluoride, occurring naturally in foods and water or added to the water supply, can be a powerful tool in fighting decay. It can reduce the rate of cavities by as much as 60 percent.

1. Protecting your teeth

You can protect your teeth by concluding meals with foods that do not promote cavities and may even prevent them.

  • For instance, aged cheeses help prevent cavities if consumed at the end of a meal.
  • Chewing sugarless gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which decreases acid and flushes out food particles.
  • Rinsing your mouth and brushing your teeth after eating are important strategies to prevent cavities.
  • Limit dried fruits and other sticky foods that lodge between the teeth.
  • Avoid sweet drinks and snacks and steady sipping of acidic drinks for prolonged periods.

2. Dental health tips

  1. Make sure that your children's teeth get off to a good start by eating sensibly during pregnancy. Particularly important is cal­cium, which helps to form strong teeth and bones, and vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium.
  2. You need lots of calcium for healthy teeth and gums. Low-fat dairy products, fortified soy and rice beverages, canned salmon or sardines (with bones), almonds and dark green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of calcium.
  3. You need vitamin D to help absorb the calcium. Vitamin D is obtained from fluid milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, marga­rine, fatty fish such as salmon, and moderate exposure to the sun.
  4. To a large extent, cavities can be prevented by giving children fluoride in the first few years of life. Fluoride is supplied through fluoridated water (not all municipalities fluoridate their water supply, however), beverages made with fluoridated water, tea and some fish, as well as many brands of toothpaste and some mouthwash. Fluoride supplements are available for children who don't have access to fluori­dated drinking water. It is wise to check to see if the water supply in your area is fluoridated. Excess consumption of fluoride can cause mottling of the teeth.
  5. Also needed are phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A and beta carotene.
  6. In addition to calcium and fluoride, minerals needed for the formation of tooth enamel include phosphorus (richly supplied in meat, fish and eggs) and magnesium (found in whole grains, spinach and bananas). Vitamin A also helps build strong bones and teeth. Good sources of beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, include orange-coloured fruits and vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables.

3. Tips for parents

Children are particularly vulnerable to tooth decay. Parents, here are some tips:

  •  Provide a good diet throughout childhood.
  •  Brush children's teeth until they're mature enough to do a thorough job by themselves (usually by six or seven years old).
  • Supervise twice-daily brushing and flossing thereafter.
  • Never put babies or toddlers to bed accompanied by a bottle of milk (which contains the natural sugar lactose), juice or other sweet drink.
  •  Never dip pacifiers in honey or syrup.
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