In addition to
brushing and flossing, a healthful diet (with natural or added fluoride)
protects teeth from decay and keeps the gums healthy. Tooth decay (cavities
and dental caries) and gum disease 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 an 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.
DENTAL HEALTH GUIDELINES
Start right by eating right
during pregnancy. Make sure that your children's teeth get off to a good
stat 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.
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
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.
Fluoride is key. Toa 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
Also needed are phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, and beta carotene. 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-colored fruits and vegetables and
the dark green leafy vegetables.
Children are particularly
vulnerable to tooth decay; parents should:
• Provide a good diet throughout
• Brush children's teeth until
they're mature enough to do a thorough job by themselves (usually by 6 or 7
• 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
THE SUGAR FACTOR
Sucrose, most familiar to us as
granulated sugar, is the leading cause of tooth decay, but it is far from
the only culprit. Although sugary foods, including cookies, candies, and
sodas, are major offenders, starchy foods (such as breads and cereals) also
play an important part in tooth decay. When starches mix with amylase, an
enzyme in saliva, the results is an acid bath that erodes the enamel and
makes teeth more susceptible to decay. If starchy foods linger in the mouth,
the acid bath is prolonged, and the potential for damage is all the greater.
Be careful when eating dried
fruits. Dried fruits can have an adverse effect on teeth, because they
are high in sugar and cling to the teeth. Even unsweetened fruit juices can
contribute to tooth decay – they are acidic and contain relatively high
levels of simple sugars.
Fresh fruits, especially
apples, are better choices. Fresh fruit, although both sweet and acidic,
is much less likely to cause a problem, because chewing stimulates the
saliva flow. Saliva decreases mouth acidity and washes away food particles.
Apples, for example, have been called nature's toothbrush because they
stimulate the gums, increase saliva flow and reduce the build-up of
cavity-causing bacteria. A chronically dry mouth also contributes to decay.
Saliva flow slows during sleep; going to bed without brushing the teeth is
especially harmful. Certain drugs, including those used for high blood
pressure, also cut down saliva flow.
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
More teeth are lost through gum
disease than through tooth decay. Gum disease is likely to strike anyone who
neglects oral hygiene or eats a poor diet. Particularly at risk are people
with alcoholism, malnutrition, or AIDS/HIV infection or who are being
treated with steroid drugs or certain cancer chemotherapies. Regular
brushing and flossing help to prevent puffy, sore, and inflamed gums.
Gingivitis, a very common
condition that causes the gums to redden, swell, and bleed, is typically
caused by the gradual buildup of plaque. Treatment requires good dental
hygiene and removal of plaque by a dentist or dental hygienist. Left
untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodonititis – an advanced infection of
the gums that causes teeth to loosen and fall out. there may even be more
serious consequences of gum disease. Studies have shown a link between poor
oral health and heart disease. Bleeding gums apparently provide an entry
port for bacteria or viruses that can cause heart problems. Women with tooth
or gum problems are also more likely to give birth to premature babies.
Bleeding gums may also be a sign
that your intake of vitamin C is deficient. Be sure that your diet includes
plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables every day; munching on hard, fibrous
foods, such as a celery stick or carrot, stimulates the gums.