Dental health- take care of your smile
As a dietitian I know the importance of good teeth for good health particularly in later life. I intend to still be able to chomp into an apple and chew my steak into my later years. This relies on good teeth. If you can’t chew hard foods you reduce the range of foods you can eat and therefore nutrient intake too.
Food can be a friend and a foe for your teeth. It provides nutrients we need:
- minerals such as calcium and phosphorus for strong teeth and remineralisation
- vitamin C for strong gums essential to hold teeth in place
- dietary fibre to chew, stimulating saliva production to aid with digestion and swallowing
- probiotics to crowd out the bad bacteria that cause decay
Food however can contain sugars that feed the bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria in plaque use sugars in food and drinks to produce acid. This acid dissolves the tooth’s strengthening minerals (calcium and phosphate) from the tooth surface. This can then result in decay.
Keeping your mouth moist and well hydrated helps keep sufficient saliva in your mouth. Saliva is the body’s natural defense against dental decay. It helps wash sugars from the mouth and reduces the effect of the acid produced by the plaque bacteria.
If ‘acid attacks’ too often, your saliva won’t have enough time to repair the damage done, and a hole will eventually develop in the tooth. The occasional sugars are ok but continual sipping on sweet drinks, nibbling or sucking on lollies, particularly that are sticky and hang around in the mouth for a long time, is harmful.
Eating carbohydrate containing foods such as rice, potatoes, bread, pasta, dairy foods and fruit are important and although they contain carbohydrates and natural sugars we should include them in our diet for overall health.
Research has shown that milk, yoghurt and cheese help prevent tooth decay. They contain casein protein which when combined with the tooth strengthening minerals calcium and phosphorus create a protective protein film over the tooth enamel, recuing the risk of decay.
Tips for healthy teeth:
1. Remember to clean teeth or at least swirl with water to wash away leftover food after eating.
2. Carrots, apples and celery are high in fibre to stimulate saliva production when you chew and are around 80% water to keep the mouth hydrated. Not as effective as brushing your teeth, but handy to eat at the end of the meal if you can’t.
3. Eat two pieces of fruit per day for vitamin C important for healthy gums
4. Include foods containing calcium daily e.g. Rokeby Probiotic milk, Breakfast Smoothie (rinse with water at the end)
5. Choose water as your main fluid, and no sweet drinks before bed after brushing (no bottles of milk for toddlers to go to bed with). Tap water is great for teeth due to the added fluoride that strengthens teeth.
6. Water and milk should be the choice of drinks for children. Flavoured milk still provides the valuable minerals of calcium and phosphorus and the casein protein for teeth, however consider the extra sugar. This may be a good after exercise choice.
7. Eat a piece of cheese at the end of a meal, the calcium helps re mineralise the teeth and increase the pH of the mouth to reduce acidity
8. Eat foods containing probiotics to ‘crowd out’ bad bacteria (e.g. Rokeby’s probiotic milk, yoghurt)
9. Brush and floss teeth regularly. The bacteria wont have anything ‘to eat’ when the food is removed.
10. Visit your dentist regularly, usually recommended 6 monthly.
Your teeth can tell a lot about your overall health. It is thought certain bacteria in your mouth may also be related to bacteria involved in medical conditions.
Dietary fibre is essential for good health. It is important to gut health which then influences both your physical and mental health and without good teeth you can’t chew the high fibre foods (e.g. wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and legumes). So for your best health look after your teeth.