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Your mouth is a complex organism. Everything that comes in contact with your teeth and gums can affect your oral health.  Your food and beverage choices, and the frequency at which you eat them, are important to preserving your overall health.

A diet high in processed foods will have a negative affect on your oral health due to the high sugar content. These sugary, sticky, and acidic foods should be avoided to help prevent cavities which lead to more severe dental issues like tooth decay. If you do indulge in sticky or sweet treats, avoid keeping them in your mouth too long, as this will increase the sugar build-up on your teeth and lead to quicker bacteria and plaque production.

How Does Your Diet Affect Your Oral Health?

The average Canadian eats 40kg of sugar each year. It’s no wonder that sugar is one of the leading causes of dental problems. In fact, the most common chronic childhood disease is tooth decay. This is often a result of too much sugar in the diet. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria and plaque are formed from residual sugar in the mouth. This produces acid that attacks your teeth. The acidity eats away at your tooth’s enamel, causing it to rot away. Foods like candy, cookies, pastries, and soda are the top offenders. Limiting a child’s sugar intake and remembering to brush after each sweet treat will help prevent cavities from forming.

In adults, gum disease is a more common dental problem. If not properly treated, it can lead to tooth loss. The leading cause of gum disease comes from a lack of proper nutrition. If your diet lacks certain nutrients, it may be more difficult for the tissue in your mouth to resist infection. That’s why eating a balanced diet is crucial to your overall oral health.

A diet that contains calcium-rich foods is beneficial to your oral health.  Calcium helps make your teeth stronger. Snacks like cheese, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods help your body gain the nutrients necessary to keep you healthy. Raw vegetables and fruits that have naturally occurring sugars are a great snack. Sugars that are naturally found in fruits and veggies are healthy. Your body needs a certain amount of sugar to keep your body’s pH levels regulated.

How to Promote Good Oral Health

Keeping your mouth healthy is not difficult. It can easily be incorporated into your daily life by making smart choices, beginning with what comes in contact with your teeth and gums. Here are a few guidelines that promote strong teeth and will keep your smile looking healthy:

  • Limit Between-Meal Snacks – If you feel the urge to snack between mealtime, choose something healthy like vegetables or cheese. Food that is eaten outside a meal can cause harm to your mouth because there is less saliva to help wash away the food from your teeth. Saliva is more plentiful during mealtime.
  • Stay Away From Sticky Foods – Sticky foods like honey, raisins, and starchy foods like potato chips or bread are more likely to cause cavities than non-sticky foods. These foods stick to your teeth, leaving behind a residue that is difficult to brush off.
  • Drink Plenty of Water – It’s tempting to reach for a caffeinated, sugary drink for an afternoon pick-me-up, but drinks like sodas and even energy and sports drinks have high sugar content. Plain water is the healthiest option for your teeth and your overall health.
  • Watch Out for Teeth-Staining Drinks – Dark-coloured drinks like coffee, tea, and red wine, have tendencies to stain your teeth when not consumed in moderation. The colour pigments in these beverages called chromogens attach to your tooth’s enamel, causing it to stain. The best way to prevent these stains is to drink plenty of water to wash away the tooth-staining properties.
  • Give Your Mouth a Break – Taking breaks between snacks and meals gives your mouth time to naturally wash away any food residue.  Having a two-hour break between when you eat reduces your risk of tooth decay.
  • Regular Brushing and Flossing – Keeping your teeth clean is the most important part of having healthy teeth. Removing food residue, acid and sugar particles, and color pigments that can damage and stain your teeth will keep your smile looking healthy and your teeth clean. Brushing and flossing twice a day is recommended as well as regular dentist visits for a deep clean.
  • Reduce Processed Sugar –  Be mindful when you are grocery shopping by reading ingredient labels on packaged food items.  Try to avoid foods that have high fructose corn syrup, molasses, glucose, honey, or any type of sugar.  It can be time-consuming at first, but once you learn how to make healthier food choices, eating with your oral health in mind is a breeze.
  • Brush On-The-Go – It may not be possible to make healthy choices if you travel often. But keeping a travel-sized tooth brush and toothpaste in your car or your travel bag can make it easier to clean your teeth after a morning coffee or sugary sweet snack.
  • Chew Sugar-Free Gum – If you have a hard time not snacking between meals, then chew sugar-free gum after each snack. Chewing gum helps prevent cavities because it promotes saliva production. Saliva washes away food and sugar residue from the teeth. Increased saliva production increases calcium to your mouth which makes your tooth enamel stronger; not to mention, you’ll have fresh breath!
  • Limit Citrus Intake – Citrus fruits are delicious alternatives to sugary snacks, but be careful of the acid levels in these fruits. Overexposure to these acids can cause tooth erosion because the citrus eats away at your tooth’s enamel, making them more susceptible to damage.  Citrus also irritates mouth sores, which can be painful and cause discomfort.

Moving away from processed sugars and understanding how the foods and beverages we consume affect our health will help promote good oral health, keep our teeth healthy, and help us avoid serious dental issues.

A version of this post was first published on Altima Dental Blog