Everyone knows that a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to healthy
living. But did you know that eating patterns and food choices play an
important role in preventing
tooth decay and
gum disease, too? You may eat with your eyes first, but your mouth, teeth, and gums
are more than just tools for eating. They’re essential for chewing
and swallowing—the first steps in the digestion process. Your mouth
is your body’s initial point of contact with the nutrients you consume.
So what you put in your mouth impacts not only your general health but
also that of your teeth and gums. In fact, if your nutrition is poor,
the first signs often show up in your oral health.
Your individual nutrition and calorie needs depend on your age, gender,
level of physical activity and other health factors, but according to
a website from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an agency
of U.S. Department of Agriculture,a balanced and healthy diet should include:
Fruits and vegetables. Combined, these should cover half your plate at meals.
Grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains, such as oatmeal,
whole wheat bread and brown rice.
Dairy. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods most often.
Protein. Make lean protein choices, such as lean beef, skinless poultry and fish.
Vary your protein choices to also include eggs, beans, peas and legumes.
Eat at least eight ounces of seafood a week.
In addition to diet, it’s also important to stay active for good
health. Adults should get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity
physical activity every week.
For more information about eating right, visit the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For dental health, it’s recommended that people limit eating and
drinking between meals. Of course, sometimes eating between meals must
happen. Unfortunately, most people choose foods like sweets and chips
for snacks; foods that harm teeth by promoting tooth decay. If you do
snack, make it a nutritious choice—such as cheese, yogurt, fruits,
vegetables or nuts—for your overall health and the health of your
teeth. Did you know that certain foods can put you at risk for cavities
and other oral health problems? Here are some
New School Lunch Standards
According to the National School Lunch Program, more than 23 million children
and teens are overweight or obese, placing them at increased risk for
serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke later in life.
That’s why the National School Lunch Program is working towards
making sure every child has access to healthy lunch options at school.
New standards for school lunches, and the incentive of federal funds (six
cents per lunch) for the schools which meet these new standards, are helping
in the effort.
The school lunch changes include: more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,
a shift to low-fat or nonfat milk, and limits on calories, sodium, and
Diet and Tooth Decay
The foods you eat and the beverages you drink can have a direct influence
on the incidence and progression of tooth decay, depending upon:
- The form of the food—whether it’s liquid, solid, sticky or
slow to dissolve makes a difference.
- How often you eat sugary foods and beverages and how often you eat or drink
acidic foods and beverages.
- The nutritional makeup of the food.
- The combination of the foods you eat and the order in which you eat them.
- Medical conditions you may have, such as gastrointestinal reflux and eating
disorders, which can increase risk of cavities and weaken teeth.
In November 2015, the Food and Drug Administration recommended people over
the age of 3 eat no more than 12.5 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar a day
(about the same amount that is found in a can of Coke.) Sugar, the FDA
says, should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories.
The bacteria in your mouth use carbohydrates for food, so when you cut
back on sugar, and other sources of simple carbohydrates that are easily
fermentable, you reduce your cavity risk. Limit added sugars in your diet
by reading food labels to determine the amount of added sugar in a food.
Since ingredients are listed on the label in order of weight, from most
to least, if one of the following terms is listed as one of the first
few ingredients, it’s a good bet that food is high in sugar. Another
tip for spotting sources of sugar—terms ending in “-ose”
indicate a sugar ingredient.
Here are some common added sugars:
- brown sugar
- cane sugar
- confectioners' or powdered sugar
- turbinado sugar
- raw sugar
- corn sweeteners
- corn syrup
- crystallized cane sugar
- evaporated cane juice
- fruit juice concentrate
- high fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
Top Sources of Added Sugar in the Diet and Percentages
- soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, 35.7%
- grain-based desserts (cakes, pies) 12.9%
- fruit drinks 10.5%
- dairy-based desserts (ice cream) 6.5%
- candy 6.1%
- ready-to-eat cereals 3.8%
- sugars and honey 3.5%
- tea (sweetened) 3.5%
- yeast breads 2.1%
- all other foods 15.4%
Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
Foods That May Harm Dental Health
Empty calorie foods such as candy (especially hard or sticky candies like
lollipops, mints, taffy and caramel), sweets like cookies, cakes and muffins,
and snack foods like chips are a cause for dental concern, not only because
they offer no nutritional value, but because the amount and type of sugar
that they contain that can adhere to teeth. The bacteria in your mouth
feed off these sugars, releasing acids, and that’s what leads to
Sugar-containing drinks—soda, lemonade, juice and sweetened coffee
or tea (iced or hot)—are particularly harmful because sipping them
causes a constant sugar bath over teeth, which promotes tooth decay. Learn
more about the potentially harmful oral health effects of drinking acidic
and sugary drinks here from the
Indiana Dental Association's Drinks Destroy Teeth.
Nutritious, acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have acidic
effects on tooth enamel, too, so eat them as part of a meal, not by themselves.
Dried fruits, including raisins, are also good choices for a healthy diet,
but since they are sticky and adhere to teeth, the plaque acids that they
produce continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them. Opt for
a piece of fresh fruit instead.
Foods That May Benefit Dental Health
Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, calcium-fortified tofu, leafy greens and almonds,
are foods that may benefit tooth health thanks to their high amounts of
calcium and other nutrients they provide. Protein-rich foods like meat,
poultry, fish, milk and eggs are the best sources of phosphorus. Both
of these minerals play a critical role in dental health, by protecting
and rebuilding tooth enamel.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for a healthy smile since they are
high in water and fiber, which balance the sugars they contain and help
to clean the teeth. These foods also help stimulate saliva production,
which washes harmful acids and food particles away from teeth and helps
neutralize acid, protecting teeth from decay. Plus, many contain vitamin
C (important for healthy gums and quick healing of wounds) and vitamin
A (another key nutrient in building tooth enamel).
Hands down, water—particularly fluoridated water—is the most
Sugar Substitutes and Sugar-Free Products
Sugar substitutes may look and taste like sugar but they don’t promote
decay-causing acids in your mouth that can harm teeth. There are many
types of sugar substitutes, including aspartame, erythritol, saccharin,
sucralose, isomalt, sorbitol, acesulfame potassium and mannitol. You might
recognize some of these names from ingredient lists on food packages,
or know some of them by their brand names (Splenda, Equal and Sunett).
Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Cavities:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes to remove sugars and food
particles from your teeth.
- Limit between-meal snacking.
- Keep added sugar in your diet to a minimum by making wise food and beverage choices.
- Include dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and water in your diet—they
all play a role in your dental health.