The food we eat not only provides us energy, but it also supplies nutrients to help the body remain healthy. The most important of these nutrients are minerals and tiny organic compounds called vitamins.
While all of the thirteen known vitamins and eleven minerals play a role in overall health, a few are especially important for your mouth. For example, vitamins D and K and the minerals calcium and phosphorus are essential for strong teeth. Another mineral, fluoride, helps fortify enamel, which can deter tooth decay.
Other vitamins and minerals serve as antioxidants, protecting us against molecules called free radicals that can damage cellular DNA and increasing our risk of cancer (including oral). Vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium fall into this category, as well as zinc for DNA repair.
We acquire these nutrients primarily in the foods we eat. But for certain people like older adults or pregnant or nursing women a healthy diet may not be enough. Any person who can't get enough of a particular vitamin or mineral should take a supplement to round out their nutritional needs.
If you don't have a condition that results in a nutrient deficiency, you may not see that much benefit from taking a supplement. In fact, taking too much of a dietary supplement could harm your health. For example, some studies have shown ingesting too much supplemental Vitamin E could increase the risk of heart failure or gastrointestinal cancer. And some dietary supplements can interact poorly with drugs like blood thinners or ibuprofen.
The best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body — and mouth — needs is to eat a healthy diet. Dairy products like fortified milk are a good way to get vitamin D, as well as calcium and phosphorus. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of Vitamin C. And while you can take in fluoride from toothpaste or other oral hygiene products, you'll also find it in seafood and tea.
While good oral hygiene and regular dental visits are necessary for dental health, your diet can also make a difference. Be sure you're getting all the nutrients your teeth and gums need.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements.”
Tooth decay doesn't appear out of nowhere. It begins with bacteria, which produce acid that softens and erodes tooth enamel. Without adequate enamel protection, cavities can develop.
So, one of our prevention goals is to decrease populations of disease-causing bacteria. One way is to deprive them of carbohydrates, a prime food source, most notably refined sugar. That's why for decades dentists have instructed patients to limit their intake of sugar, especially between meal snacks.
Ironically, we're now consuming more rather than less sugar from a generation ago. The higher consumption impacts more than dental health — it's believed to be a contributing factor in many health problems, especially in children. Thirty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a child in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes: today, there are over 50,000 documented juvenile cases.
Cutting back isn't easy. For one thing, we're hard-wired for sweet-tasting foods. Our ancestors trusted such foods when there was limited food safety knowledge. Most of us today still have our "sweet tooth."
There's also another factor: the processed food industry. When food researchers concluded fats were a health hazard the government changed dietary guidelines. Food processors faced a problem because they used fats as a flavor enhancer. To restore flavor they began adding small amounts of sugar to foods like lunch meat, bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter. Today, three-quarters of the 600,000 available processed food items contain some form of added sugar.
Although difficult given your available supermarket choices, limiting your sugar intake to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day will reduce your risk for dental and some general diseases. There are things you can do: replace processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables; read food labels for sugar content to make better purchasing decisions; drink water for hydration rather than soda (which can contain two-thirds of your daily recommended sugar allowance), sports drinks or juices; and exercise regularly.
Keeping your sugar consumption under control will help you reduce the risk of tooth decay. You'll be helping your overall health too.
If you would like more information on the effect of sugar on health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth about Sugar.”