Your Oral Health Begins With A Healthy Diet

Cake and ice cream at a birthday party triggered a small revelation in my seven year old daughter that became a family saying and tooth brushing habit. She informed us she had “sweaters” on her teeth. Maybe they’d go away if she brushed her teeth. From then on, announcing “sweaters” on our teeth meant we were off to brush.

That “sweater” feeling is actually plaque forming bacteria building a sticky biofilm on the teeth as the bacteria flourish on the sugar and starch coating the tooth surface and in between teeth. The bacteria get busy within 20 minutes after eating. If ignored by not brushing, the multiplying plaque forming bacteria create acid that eventually dissolves enamel. Cavities begin if a good brushing habit isn’t in place. Missing a brushing once in a while isn’t usually a problem especially if you have good oral health care habits, but a long term habit of not brushing or seeing your dentist is a problem.

Plaque hardens into tartar, also called calculus, and collects on teeth and along the gum line irritating gum tissue and causing an inflammatory condition called gingivitis. Tartar cannot be brushed off and requires a visit to the dentist and a cleaning to remove it.

Ultimately untreated gingivitis causes periodontal disease (periodontitis), a deeper inflammation that eventually causes pockets to develop between gums and teeth. These pockets fill with more plaque, tartar and bacteria causing more inflammation resulting in a loss of tissue and bone and ultimately tooth loss. Fortunately better oral health care in recent years has reduced the number of people losing their teeth due to decay and gum disease.

A compelling reason to maintain good oral health is to support good physical health. Inflammation in the mouth is a complex process with potential to raise blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with diabetes making it even harder to control blood sugar. The American Diabetes Association and the American Dental Association recommend, at a minimum, gently brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride tooth paste and flossing daily. Make sure you keep a dental appointment at least twice a year to have your teeth and gums checked and your teeth cleaned.  People with diabetes are at high risk for heart disease, too. The inflammation process can contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries and put a strain on your immune system.

People over the age of 75 are more risk for poor oral health due to multiple chronic disease conditions. Some medications they may be taking cause “dry mouth” that can encourage bacterial growth. A sore mouth or ill-fitting dentures may make eating uncomfortable resulting in poor nutrition. Physical limitations may hinder a person’s ability to maintain adequate self-oral health care such as holding a toothbrush. Helping that person with oral health care helps to maintain better health overall.

A healthy diet supports good oral health, starting in infancy and continuing through life.

  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, including sugar in coffee, keep a constant flow of sugar across the teeth as does sucking on hard or sticky candy, sweets in general, and this includes dried fruit like raisins that are sticky.
  • Infants should not be put to bed with a bottle as the milk sugar promotes bacterial activity that can begin to harm first teeth.
  • Eat a balanced diet with grains, vegetables, fruits, protein and low fat dairy products. These foods contain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins, A, C, D and K that support strong teeth, bones and prevent gum tissue.
  • Check food labels for “added sugar”. You may be surprised how often sugar is added to food.
  • Save sugary snacks and desserts for before you brush rather than eating them throughout the day or when your toothbrush isn’t handy.
  • Gum with sugar is a no-no. Try sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol doesn’t cause cavities, but increases salivary flow that can help neutralize and wash away acids helping to cleanse the teeth. Xylitol shuts down the ability of bacteria to produce acid.

As one saying goes: “Only brush the teeth you want to keep.”

Healthy Snack Idea

Combine a bowl of sugar free yogurt with fresh or frozen berries. To sweeten, add a sprinkle of Stevia or Splenda. Top with chopped nuts for a little crunch.

Eat a whole apple or a piece of fruit. Even though fruit has sugar called fructose in it, it less likely than table sugar to promote bacterial activity.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

Mimi has a background in oral health program management for the State of Idaho.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.