Nutrition is a sometimes overlooked yet important part of your overall oral health. While most patients realize that good nutrition is essential for their total well-being, many do not understand its dental significance. This goes beyond just avoiding sweets to prevent tooth decay, even though that is an important consideration. Good nutrition is directly related to the development and maintenance of your oral cavity as well as the prevention of any of its diseases.
During development, both in the womb and during childhood, adequate calcium and vitamin D intake is critical for the proper development of healthy jawbones and teeth (both baby and permanent teeth). This means that a pregnant mother's intake of these nutrients is crucial for the ideal development of her baby's oral structures. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth and vitamin D is essential for the efficient utilization of calcium in the diet. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese are excellent sources of calcium and pasteurized milk is often fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D is also available in multivitamins. Bone is renewable like hair or skin, unlike teeth that do not regenerate after initial formation. A broken bone can heal, but broken teeth need to be repaired with man-made materials. This is why calcium and vitamin D intake is so vital for the growth of solid baby and adult teeth. Studies have shown that even a mild episode of malnutrition with calcium deficiency in the first year of life will predispose individuals to increased rates of decay in both their baby and permanent teeth. A study released in 2007 also reveals that women who take 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) of folic acid daily starting early in pregnancy reduce the chances of their baby being born with cleft lip or cleft palate by one third.
Taking folic acid early during pregnancy can prevent cases of cleft lip like this one.
Your nutritional status is also key to maintaining your oral health as an adult. Since your jawbones do renew themselves, adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet is a necessity. Inadequate dietary levels of these basic nutrients can cause loss of jawbone around your teeth, a condition known as periodontitis (inflammation of your jawbones). This is particularly true of women who suffer from osteoporosis, a disease that causes lessening of bone density due in part to natural hormonal changes that occur as part of the aging process. Vitamin C and protein are needed for the maintenance of connective, gum and bone tissue. A lack of these in your diet can contribute to periodontal (gum and jawbone) disease by weakening the ligaments that hold the roots of your teeth into your jawbone, impairing the ability of your gums to heal themselves in response to inflammation caused by plaque and tartar build-up around your teeth and by dissipating the bone that supports your teeth. Vitamin C deficiency alone will cause scurvy that can affect the mouth. Fruits are a good source of vitamin C while meat, fish and poultry in your diet provide proteins as do soy and egg whites. Vitamin B deficiency can cause an inflammation of the corners of your mouth called angular cheilosis. Red meat contains ample vitamin B. Also remember that a multivitamin can furnish you with many of these elements when dietary preferences or lifestyle choices prevent you from eating the foods listed.
Oral scurvy caused by Vitamin C deficiency.
Your diet is also a way of preventing certain specific ailments from affecting your mouth. Carbohydrates, including starches and especially simple sugars, are digested by bacteria in your mouth (everyone who has teeth has these bacteria in their mouths) that then produce acid. This acid eats away at your teeth in a process known as tooth decay, dental caries or more commonly - "cavities". By reducing basic carbohydrates (especially sweets) in your diet, you significantly lower your risk for tooth decay. When making food choices, be sure to read the labels of what you buy. Foods that you might least expect can contain remarkable amounts of sugar. Diet also has a bearing on your chances of developing oral cancer which has one of the lowest cure rates of any form of the disease. Studies have shown that increased amounts of dietary fruit have a protective effect against oral cancer. Increasing your daily servings of fruit should be commenced in moderation as fruits contain great quantities of citric acid that can erode tooth enamel with disproportionate amounts over the long term. Fruits also contain large amounts of sugar. Studies have also shown that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages elevates your oral cancer risk so drink in moderation. Diets overly geared to raw vegetables which can be quite coarse may cause undue wear of your teeth.
In short, a sensible diet with adequate amounts of the primary nutrients necessary for the proper development and maintenance of your oral tissues will help ensure a healthy, comfortable and smoothly functioning mouth over your lifetime. Neglecting this important consideration for oral health can lead to serious problems in your ability to chew comfortably and retain your natural teeth.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW DIET AND NUTRITION
AFFECT YOUR ORAL HEALTH, PLEASE ASK DR. MCARDLE.