Effects of Dietary Choices on Oral Health

How Does Diet Impact Your Oral Health?

An unhealthy diet increases your risk of developing serious oral conditions and diseases. For example, eating sugary and processed food results in more buildup of dental plaque and cavities. This is because bacteria in the mouth feed off simple sugars, which eventually converts into acid plaque. If plaque isn’t removed completely during at-home teeth cleanings, it turns into tartar (hardened plaque). Both plaque and tartar cause gingivitis, and ultimately, periodontal disease (advanced gum disease).

poor diet

Worst Foods For Your Dental Health

There are many types of food that can damage your teeth and gums, including:

  • Hard and sticky foods, such as hard candies, caramel, and other sugary substances.
  • Excessive citrus intake (e.g. lemons, oranges, and limes) can result in enamel erosion due to the high acid content in these fruits.
  • White starches, such as pasta, bread, chips, and crackers can cause cavities over time because they are high in sugar.
  • Coffee and tea (highly acidic substances). Stain and tooth discoloration can also occur.
  • Soda, due to its high sugar content.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively, such as wine and sugary mixed drinks.
  • Fruit juices and sports drinks, due to their high sugar content and acidic pH.
healthy diet

Best Foods & Nutrients For Your Dental Health

There are many types of food that can damage your teeth and gums, including:

For a 2000kcal/day diet, health professionals recommend eating at least 3 cups of dairy, 5.5oz of protein, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, and 6oz of grains. Inadequate amounts of certain vitamins, nutrients, and food groups can lead to serious oral conditions over time. To help counteract the effects of poor nutrition on your dental health, it is crucial to eat a balanced diet. For example, the following dietary components play a vital role in oral growth and development:

General Nutrition

Eating proper amounts of fruits, vegetables, dairy, healthy fats (nuts and oils), unrefined carbohydrates, and protein is vital for good oral health. Malnutrition can lead to delayed tooth development and eruption, enamel hypoplasia (thin enamel), cavity formation, and decreased collagen production. For example, your salivary glands are composed primarily of collagen and secrete fluid (saliva) that protects your teeth against infection. Saliva is also essential for taste and speech. When the glands do not form properly, they cannot secrete enough fluid to keep your mouth lubricated and healthy, which often results in dry mouth and cavities. High-fiber, low-sugar diets result in normal saliva production and better-buffering capacity.


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Calcium, Vitamin D & Magnesium

These nutrients are essential for keeping your bones strong, especially in developing children. They are also associated with the quantity of alveolar bone (supporting structures of teeth) and bone density you have. Dairy products, such as cheese and milk, contain calcium that mixes with plaque and sticks to your teeth. As a result, dairy protects tooth enamel against plaque buildup and decay.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps strengthen your teeth, gums, and soft tissues in the mouth. The nutrient also fights against gingivitis (mild gum disease) and helps prevent loose teeth. Broccoli, leafy greens, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwis, and oranges are good sources of vitamin C.

Protein

Lean protein is necessary for cell replication in the body. If your child is protein deficient, it can affect tooth size and delay tooth eruption. Protein deficiency also affects the formation of the salivary glands and function, which can lead to dry mouth and tooth decay over time. Inadequate protein intake can also result in lower jaw growth deficiencies in developing children.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for the growth and separation of cells in the body. In particular, ingesting enough vitamin A during the last trimester of pregnancy helps prevent premature birth, poor lung development, and nutritional deficiencies. In addition, it assists in building strong tooth enamel, keeps the gums healthy, and even reduces the risk of cleft palate. Sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna, bell peppers, dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, and cantaloupe are good sources of vitamin A.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B, such as riboflavin and niacin, prevent mouth sores and inflammation. If you get canker sores often or experience frequent gum inflammation, you might have a vitamin B deficiency.

Taking supplements or incorporating the following foods into your diet can help prevent mouth sores and other oral conditions:

  • Red meat, such as steak.
  • Poultry, such as chicken and turkey.
  • Fish, such as salmon and tilapia.
  • Whole grains, including barley, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread.
  • Cheese, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
  • Almonds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts.
  • Citrus fruits, bananas, avocados, and oranges.
  • Broccoli, spinach, and other dark leafy vegetables.
  • Beans and lentils.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K deficiency increases a child’s risk of maxillofacial hypoplasia, which refers to an underdeveloped upper jaw (maxilla). This nutrient also aids in proper saliva production, decreasing your chances of dry mouth and cavities. Collard greens, broccoli, edamame, soybeans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, and spinach are good sources of vitamin K.

Folic Acid

If a child does not receive enough folic acid in the womb, they have a higher risk of developing cleft lip and palate. Clefts appear as splits or openings in the upper lip, palate (roof of the mouth), or both. The splits cause gaps and defects in the affected areas and are often associated with a nose deformity on the same side. Citrus fruits, spinach, beans, bread, rice, and pasta are good sources of folic acid.

Copper

Copper helps build strong bones, including the teeth. If your infant or child has a copper deficiency, they can develop osteopenia. This condition is when the bones are weaker than normal and tend to break easily. Meats, mushrooms, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are good sources of copper.

Phosphorus

If you are phosphorus-deficient, enamel hypoplasia (thin enamel) and enamel pitting can occur. Enamel pits form when plaque builds between your teeth and gets inside the tiny holes in the molars. Over time, the enamel wears down and large holes form, which results in decay and thin enamel.

Fluoride

Fluoride reduces the risk of dental plaque buildup, which causes cavities over time. If you do not drink enough fluoridated water, brush with fluoride toothpaste, or take fluoride supplements, tooth decay can occur. On the other hand, excessive fluoride consumption from water with more than 0.7 ppm of fluoride can cause dental fluorosis. Fluorosis is the hypomineralization of tooth enamel, which leads to abnormal enamel development and causes white streaks, yellow stains, or brown stains on teeth.

Food Consistency

Food consistency and texture also has an impact on your teeth, gums, and jaw. For example, frequently eating crunchy or sticky foods may result in loose teeth (over time), chips, and cracks. You may also experience jaw pain when opening and closing your mouth. Raw vegetables and crisp fruits (e.g. carrots, celery & apples) fight against bacterial infections and tissue cell damage. In addition, these natural foods do not damage tooth enamel or gum tissue.

Resources

Palmer, Carole A., and Linda D. Boyd. Diet and Nutrition in Oral Health. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2016.

Scardina, G A, and P Messina. “Good Oral Health and Diet.” Journal of Biomedicine & Biotechnology, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2012.

Updated on: June 9, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
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Medically Reviewed: November 21, 2019
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Lara Coseo
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