Today’s blog post is dedicated to your teeth. Your chompers. Your pearly whites. For every quarter you got under your pillow for losing one, you paid thousands to lock them up in metal torture devices, a.k.a. braces. They’re the reason you were awkward in middle school, thanks to that unmistakable lisp from your retainer or that limited movement range from those rubber bands. This is for everyone whose pink retainer case was a permanent backpack feature since you couldn’t wear it at lunch. Now you may be wondering why a dietitian is writing about teeth. Well I’m about to open all of your eyes to the wonderful connection between nutrition and oral health. Now open wide…let’s get started…
I recently got into a lively discussion about nutrition and oral health with a newly-licensed dental hygienist at my oldest friend’s wedding. We talked about fascinating things like the lifespan of bacteria and why dogs are at high risk for heart disease. And as we raised our glasses of teeth-staining red wine to cheers to good oral health, I realized that I needed to spread the good word about the connection between what we eat and how we chew it.
Let’s take a look at the oral health advice given to us by reputable toothpaste brand, Crest, in today’s Throwback Thursday vintage ad:
- Have check-ups
This is absolutely still true compared to whatever year this ad ran. The recommendation from my dentist has always been every 6 months, and trust me, even without dental insurance for the past I’m-not-even-sure-how-many years, you bet I’m driving my butt the ½ hour to the dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and awkward open-mouth conversation consisting of “ahhs” and “ah-huhs”. The hygienists are checking for cavities and the strength of your tooth enamel, as well as cleaning those hard-to-reach places that are prone to plaque build-up. So even if you have to pay out-of-pocket, go to the dentist regularly. It’s worth it.
- Watch treats
Here’s where I get to have some fun! The advice to “watch treats” is very generic, and people have thought for years and years that in order to prevent cavities, we just have to stay away from sugar. We’ve been told that sugar “rots” our teeth. But that may just be something moms tell their kids on Halloween. So let me expand on this a little. First, the reason that sugar can be a problem for our oral health is not due to the sugar itself, but due to the thousands of bacteria that live in our mouths. Those bacteria LOVE feasting on sugar and it is the bacterial growth that can lead to breakdown and cavities. As bacteria chomp on the sugar on our teeth, they release acid that lowers the pH in our mouths and breaks down the enamel (i.e. the bulletproof vest for teeth).
Second, the problem is not THAT we eat sugar, it’s HOW we eat sugar. We’re going to get into more trouble if we suck on a piece of hard candy or sip slowly on a sugar-sweetened beverage than if we just chew a cookie and wash it down with some water. Even if you’re drinking a full-sugar soda, it’s better to drink it all at once than sip it throughout the day. Watch out for sticky sweets too—think about candies like Swedish Fish or Sour Patch Kids that leave little pieces stuck on our teeth. That sugar that sits on the teeth makes a nice little breeding ground for those bacteria. And they thank you for your hospitality.
Foods that are considered good for our oral health are those that are “non-cariogenic”, i.e. those that do not promote tooth decay. Good options include:
- Most fruits
- Sugar-free gum containing xylitol (this may actually remove fermentable bacteria from your teeth…everything in moderation though, excessive consumption of sugar alcohols like this may cause GI distress)
- Brush after eating
For any of you who grew up brushing your teeth 3 times a day, once after every meal, I’m about to turn that upside down a bit. The bacteria in our mouths turn over once every 24 hours. So technically, as long as you brush your teeth once a day (well…key is to brush well), you’re good to go. But many of us would agree that brushing once in the morning and once before bed is more preferable, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Make sure to add flossing to your daily routine, as little pieces of food that get stuck in between teeth can aggravate the gums.
So there you have it, a little crash course in oral health with a nutrition twist. You only get one set of adult teeth, so treat them well! Plus, our oral health doesn’t just stop with us—there’s evidence that women who have poor oral health pass that along to their babies during gestation. So smile big, take some care with your oral health, and treat yourself to some non-cariogenic cheese!