Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

The Effects of Food on Dental Hygiene and Health

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Good oral health and dental hygiene begin with clean teeth and proper dental care. Brushing and flossing are important oral hygiene habits, but so is eating a balanced diet.

Sugary food can cause tooth decay and dental caries (cavities), while acidic foods and carbonated soft drinks can wear down your tooth enamel. Poor nutrition can also speed up the development of gum disease and make it more severe.

This article covers the effects of food on dental hygiene and explains how to develop good dietary habits that promote healthy teeth and gums.

Are Oral Health and Overall Health Linked?

Your everyday lifestyle, general health status, and choices can positively or negatively impact your oral health standing.

Common risk factors associated with poor oral health include:

  • Heart disease — Periodontal disease is linked to higher rates of heart disease.
  • Diabetes and stroke — Untreated tooth decay increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. There is also a higher chance of a stroke occurring as you age.
  • Weakened immune system — Poor dental health results in a weakened immune system, which makes you more prone to developing systemic diseases and infections.

How Does Diabetes Affect Oral Health?

Diabetes impacts all parts of your body, including the mouth. If you have high levels of glucose (sugar) in your saliva, harmful bacteria can grow faster. Over time, food particles and bacteria result in high plaque levels (a sticky film that forms on teeth).

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to infections and pain affecting teeth, gums, and oral tissues. 

Learn which oral conditions commonly impact people with uncontrolled diabetes.

How Food Affects Your Oral Health

Sugar plays a direct role in the development of cavities. This is because bacteria in plaque use sugar as energy and then release harmful acids as waste. As a result, your enamel dissolves, and cavities form.

3D render of tartar and bactrail tooth plaque on teeth of lower jaw

Tooth decay progresses as you age, and the effects of sugar on the teeth are lifelong. This means that frequent consumption of sugar over a long time results in more:

  • Dental plaque
  • Dental erosion
  • Tooth decay
  • Cavities

Tooth loss and soft-tissue (gum) damage can also occur if left untreated.

What Foods Are Bad for Dental Hygiene?

For healthy teeth and gums, avoid foods that increase acid production from oral bacteria. These include:

  • Sweet foods and sticky candies — Such as caramels, lollipops, and gummies.
  • Starchy foods that stick to your teeth — Potato chips and soft pieces of bread can get stuck between your teeth.
  • Fizzy drinks — Regular soft drinks are full of sugar, and even diet sodas contain acids that wear down tooth enamel.
  • Acidic fruits — Citrus fruit like lemons and limes are high in acid, which can erode enamel and irritate mouth sores.
  • Alcoholic beverages — Alcohol causes dehydration and dry mouth. Reduced saliva levels increase your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.

Studies show that there may be a way to minimize the risk of tooth decay if you limit added sugars to 5 percent of your total daily intake.1 Natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products are not included in this percentage.

What Foods Are Good for Dental Hygiene?

Eating healthy foods can counteract the effects of acids on tooth erosion. Additionally, getting enough essential nutrients can protect periodontal health by boosting your immune response.

Foods and drinks that are good for your oral health include:

  • Still water Drinking water keeps your saliva levels high. Fluoridated water is especially good for restoring tooth enamel.
  • Fresh fruits and raw vegetables — Fiber-rich foods like fresh fruits and veggies help to clean your teeth and boost saliva production.
  • Leafy greens and dairy products — Calcium-rich foods like leafy greens, cheese, and plain yogurt help rebuild healthy teeth.
  • Green and black teas The polyphenols in these teas reduce or destroy bad bacteria in your mouth.

A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from the five major food groups. Add whole grains, lean protein, beans, and legumes to the above foods.

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The Effects of Food on Dental Hygiene and Health
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The Effects of Other Substances on Oral Health

Good dietary habits can lead to healthy teeth and gums, but other substances can affect your dental hygiene. These include:

Medications

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can lead to uncomfortable and serious oral health conditions.

For example, antidepressants and blood pressure medications can cause dry mouth. This condition is where the salivary glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva.

Learn more about which medications impact your dental health.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can cause a variety of oral health problems, including:

Excessive Alcohol Use and Addiction

Long-term and excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts your teeth and gums. This can result in serious dental conditions, including:

  • Enamel erosion
  • Dry mouth
  • Cavities
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Periodontal disease
  • Mouth sores
  • Oral cancer

Other minor conditions that may develop from alcohol abuse include tooth discoloration and bad breath.

Learn more about how alcohol use and addiction negatively affect your oral health.

Substance Use and Addiction

Cavities and periodontal disease are more prevalent in people who use drugs than those who don’t. This is mainly because addicts neglect regular dentist visits and have more tartar (hardened plaque) on their teeth.

Long-term use of illicit drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates can lead to similar problems as excessive alcohol consumption.

In more severe cases, meth addicts can develop “meth mouth.” This condition can result in rotten teeth, cracked teeth, permanent gum damage, and eventually, tooth loss.

Learn more about how drugs can severely damage your oral health.

Tobacco Products

Long-term tobacco and nicotine users commonly suffer from minor and serious oral health conditions. This includes:

  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Cavities
  • Oral cancer
  • Gum disease

Learn more about how nicotine and tobacco can negatively impact your oral health.

4 Easy Ways to Maintain Good Oral Health

3d render of lower teeth being flossed with dental floss

To reduce the chance of developing a minor or serious oral condition, staying on top of basic oral care practices is essential:

1. Brush Your Teeth

Brushing at least twice daily is one of the most important oral care habits. It keeps the teeth and mouth healthy. Using fluoride-based toothpaste also stimulates the gums, which helps prevent gum disease and cavities.

2. Floss Regularly

Properly flossing teeth daily helps reduce the chance of cavities forming between teeth. 

Flossing removes plaque and food in places where toothbrushes can’t reach. Establishing a normal routine reduces the chance of developing cavities and other oral conditions.

3. Drink Fluoridated Water

Fluoride is a natural mineral found in soil and rocks that helps prevent cavities. Over the last 70 years, small amounts of fluoride have been added to dental materials to help strengthen tooth enamel.

4. Go to the Dentist

Regular teeth cleanings and dental exams are essential for oral disease prevention. You should get your teeth professionally cleaned every six months. 

Summary

The foods you eat have a major effect on dental hygiene and oral health. Sugary foods and fizzy drinks increase acid production in your mouth, which erodes tooth enamel.

Eating healthy foods and avoiding sugars can help prevent tooth decay and reduce your risk for gum disease. It’s also important to maintain proper oral hygiene habits and get regular dental checkups.

Other substances that can negatively affect your oral health include medications, alcohol, and drugs.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Sugars and Tooth Decay.” – Queen Mary University of London, nd. 
  2. Diabetes and Dental Health.” American Dental Association, nd.
  3. Alcohol and Public Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  4. Moharamzadeh, K. “Diseases and Conditions in Dentistry: an Evidence-Based Reference.” Wiley, 2018.
  5. Palmer, C, and Boyd, L.Diet and Nutrition in Oral Health.” Pearson Prentice Hall, 2016.
  6. Pregnancy and Oral Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
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