With epidemics of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other diseases resulting from poor eating habits it’s easy to forget about their harmful effects on teeth. But dentists don’t. “We’re seeing alarming levels of decay in children, teens and adults,” said Dr. Alec Parker, executive director of the N.C. Dental Society. “It’s because people are practicing poor nutrition and not taking simple preventative measures.
“It has everything to do with what we eat and drink and how we do it,” he added. “People need to feed their teeth like they do their entire body.”
Foods containing sugar of any kind can contribute to tooth decay. When bacteria (plaque) come into contact with sugar in the mouth, acid is produced which attacks the teeth for 20 minutes or more. This can eventually result in tooth decay.
“Almost everything we eat contains sugar including milk, vegetables, fruits and even cereals,” said Dr. Parker. “But because they’re good for us, we can’t eliminate them from our diet because they also contain important nutrients.”
Cutting out nutrients makes it difficult for tissues in the mouth to resist infection. This can lead to periodontal (gum) disease, a major cause of tooth loss in adults.
To control sugar intake, it’s advisable to choose foods that are low in added sugar, such as soft drinks, cookies, candy and pastries.
“It’s a matter of thinking before you eat,” said Dr. Parker. “Read labels to check for added sugar and follow a few simple guidelines.”
The American Dental Association (ADA) and the N.C. Dental Society offer these nutrition tips for better dental health:
• Eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups:
o Breads, cereals and other grain products
o Meat, poultry and fish
o Milk, cheese and yogurt
• Limit snacks.
• If you do snack, choose nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.
• Foods eaten as part of a meal cause less harm. More saliva is released during meals which helps wash foods from the mouth, lessening the effects of acids.
• Drink fluoridated water.
• Brush twice a day with an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste.
• Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners.
• Visit your dentist regularly.
But even some snacks deemed “healthy” can be a problem. “You have to watch out for sticky fruits such as raisons and rollups that stay on the teeth longer with a greater potential for decay.”
The biggest culprit is soft drinks, said Dr. Parker. “Soft drinks contain large doses of sweeteners and often carbonation and acidic products. These beverages include soda pop, juice drinks, and sports (electrolyte replacement) drinks with added sugars. Practically any beverage with added sugar is harmful.”
So, what can kids drink? Anything that hydrates and contributes to good nutrition said Dr. Parker.
“Drinking 8-10 cups of water a day is important and consuming fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. Bottled water that doesn’t contain fluorides isn’t nearly as healthful as drinking tap water,” Parker added. “A glass of water right out of the faucet is by far the best choice.”
Beverages that contain at least 50% fruit juice with no added sweeteners, water, low fat milk and non-fat milk are also good choices,” Dr. Parker advised.
Additional information on diet and oral health can be found at www.ada.org or visit www.ncdental.org for informational links.
The N.C. Dental Society represents 3,500 dentists throughout North Carolina. The NCDS encourages improvement of the oral health of the public, promotes the art and science of dentistry, sustains high standards of professional competence and practice, and represents the interests of the members of the dental profession and the public which it serves.
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