People intuitively understand that too much sugar in one’s diet can lead to health issues. Weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes are all conditions that can be attributed to too much sugar. What we don’t always recognize is that our teeth and gums are affected by too much sugar as well. A diet too high in sugar can lead to tooth decay. This often starts in childhood. By the time we’re adults, bad habits have become engrained. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable.
Your teeth’s enamel is strong, but it’s finite. Once it starts to wear down, it can’t be replaced. The surface of your teeth is under constant bombardment by bacteria in your mouth and the acids that cause plaque to form. Plaque is what causes cavities. Cavities lead to fillings. When there’s no more tooth to “fill”, next comes root canals, and in the worst cases, extractions.
To limit plaque buildup, you need to regulate how much sugar you consume. The easiest way to do this is to be a smart consumer. Read nutrition labels and be on the lookout for food companies’ tricks. Sugars may not be labeled “sugar”. Be mindful of ingredients that end in -ose. Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are all types of sugar. Know that “no sugar added” doesn’t necessarily mean “no sugar at all.” When you see any of these ingredients high up on the ingredients list or as a high percentage of your recommended daily intake, beware. You’ll also find these in foods you may not immediately expect, like cereals, juices, and breads. It’s not just in cookies and ice cream.
Your oral health is not only dictated by the foods you eat, but can also be impacted by foods missing from your diet. Gum disease and bad breath can be byproducts of an incomplete or poor diet. Your dentist or dietician may have ideas for designing a more well-balanced and healthy diet with fewer sugars.
Another type of food that damages tooth enamel is acidic foods. The more acidic the food, the greater the damage it can do. All foods and drinks have their own pH value. Lower numbers (acids) cause erosion; higher numbers (alkalis) cancel out the acids. The middle value is 7.
Here are some exemplary pH values of common products:
Smart food choices are less about discipline and more about forming good habits. Make a conscious effort to think about what you eat and drink. It’s better to stick to 3 traditional meals, than to graze all day, but if you are going to snack, think healthy. Reach for nuts instead of chips, breadsticks instead of cookies. Rice cakes and veggies are great too. Stay within the five food groups, but try to limit fruits. Fruit is nature’s candy and has plenty of its own sugars in it.
None of this means you have to swear off sweets forever. But moderate. Try to limit your sweets to legitimate desserts at meal times. Sodas and candy bars may seem like great pick-me-ups (and are marketed as such), but there are healthier alternatives. If you need any more convincing, remember in addition to tooth decay, they also can cause other health issues as well.
Hydration is key to good health as well. Milk and water will always be your best options. Fruit juice is ok in moderation, but as with sweets is best paired at meal time. If you want to be extra good, dilute the fruit drink 10-to-1 with water. You’ll still get the fruit flavor, but you’ll break up some of the sugar. You can also look for sugar-free juices.
While a well-balanced diet is important, for oral health, keeping your teeth and gums clean is essential as well. Like every dentist you’ve ever seen has said, you should be brushing and flossing at least twice a day, especially before bedtime. This is because the flow of saliva slows down at night. Saliva is your mouth’s sanitation system. The more bacteria in your mouth before bed, the harder it has to work and the more vulnerable your teeth are to decay.
When shopping for toothpaste, choose one with fluoride and that has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. Children up to 3 years of age should use one with a fluoride level of at least 1000 ppm. Kids 3 and up and adults require toothpaste that has 1350-1500 ppm of fluoride.
It goes without saying that regular dental check-ups are your mouth’s best friend. Make time for your dentist twice a year and they can help you prevent oral problems from occurring. They will also be able to detect any issues in the early stages, when treatment is still at its most manageable.
To further discuss your dietary habits or to schedule an appointment, call Kelly Road Dental today. We will gladly examine your teeth and gums, and prep the best treatment options to fit your needs. Don’t delay, call us today!