Good dental health, like good general health, depends on having healthy eating habits. This includes having an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D for healthy bone and healthy tooth development. Our teeth can be affected as much by our diet as by not brushing our teeth regularly. Our modern diet which can be very high in sugary carbohydrates and fat is not conducive to having good dental health or general health for that matter.
How saliva protects our teeth
Nature does a great job in preventing damage to our teeth through the action of saliva in our mouths. Every time we eat food the plaque bacteria in our mouths produce acid that makes the outside layer of our teeth unstable and calcium and other minerals flow into our saliva. The saliva protects our teeth by neutralising the acid and depositing the minerals, including fluoride, back into our teeth after 20 to 30 minutes.
However, our teeth and saliva cannot cope if we eat carbohydrate foods too frequently during the day. Eventually, so many minerals are lost that bacteria are able to invade the tooth and dental decay begins. Tooth erosion is caused by consuming acidic foods or drinks like apple and orange fruit juice and soft drinks too frequently.
The Good Stuff
Our greatest nutritional requirement for healthy living is for foods from the Bread, Cereals and Potatoes category with 6 – 12 portions required per day depending on the level of physical activity, followed by the Fruit and Vegetable category at 6 portions or more per day.
We have a lower requirement of three portions per day of Milk, Cheese and Yogurt and two portions of Meat, Fish, Eggs, Beans and Peas.
Good Stuff Snacks
Between-meal snacks that are best for our teeth include fruit, raw vegetables, sandwiches, breads, yoghurts, low fat cheese and scones. Cereals are excellent energy providers for active teenagers but avoid sugar coated types. Milk, water and sugar-free squashes are very suitable and diet drinks only in moderation can be an alternative.
Bad Stuff Snacks
We have no nutritional requirement for high fat foods or confectionery, including sweets, biscuits, cakes and snacks but these can be enjoyed in small quantities as part of a balanced diet.
Recent studies have shown that 40% of children in the 9 – 17 year age group are eating sugary high fat foods like fizzy drinks, sweets, biscuits etc three or more times a day.
Rising consumption of soft drinks is causing concern because it is displacing milk in the diet of teenage girls.
If teenagers do not get enough dietary calcium in these vulnerable years, they increase their risk of developing osteoporosis in later life.
Frequent consumption of sugary fizzy drinks put teeth at risk to dental decay and can also cause erosion of the enamel because of their acidic nature. Dental erosion is also a concern with diet soft drinks because of the acidic nature of these drinks.
Fruit juices are an important source of vitamins in the diet. However, they should only be taken at meals for two reasons. The frequent consumption of fruit juices can lead to enamel erosion because of high acidity and they can also cause dental decay because of high fructose content.
The bottom line
Try to limit the number of times you eat or drink including main meals during the day to six.
- Treats like sweets should be included at the end of a meal.
- Avoid sugary foods that dissolve slowly in the mouth like lollipops and hard boiled sweets.
- Use a straw when drinking fizzy sugary drinks, as the drink is directed to the back of the mouth, thus avoiding the teeth.
- Drink plenty of water, especially if a drink is required at night time.
Finally remember to brush your teeth at least twice a day, morning and evening with fluoride toothpaste. Do not brush teeth immediately after meals, as teeth are vulnerable to loss of minerals until at least 30 minutes after eating or drinking