How Nutrition Impacts Oral Health: Eating for Stronger Teeth

Here’s how nutrition affects oral health: Poor nutrition can result in the onset of harmful oral diseases, whereas good nutrition fosters a balanced, thriving microbiome. The more good bacteria abound in your mouth, the stronger your enamel and gingivae will be at resisting oral diseases like caries and erosion.

As the adage goes, you are what you eat. People often think of oral health as separate from overall physical health; this is untrue. Oral health depends on the same factors as the rest of the body: good food, a healthy lifestyle, and routine care.

How do I know if my mouth is healthy? Look for these common indicators:

  • Teeth are strong and intact
  • No signs of pain or achiness in the teeth or gums
  • No bleeding in the mouth or gums
  • No excessive tenderness
  • Neutral or good breath
  • Absence of sores, discoloration, abcesses, etc.

How the Wrong Foods Can Damage Your Teeth

For decades, dental experts have recognized that poor food choices and nutritional deficiency correlate with dental impairment. Consuming too much of the wrong foods will weaken your mouth’s resistance to harmful bacteria. This can result in the development of oral disease. Eating foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, starch, and acid can weaken tooth enamel and cause decay.

What is the relationship between tooth decay and diet? Studies have shown a clear correlation between ongoing consumption of acidic and high-sugar foods and increased dental erosion. Therefore, lessening your intake of sugars and acids is crucial for caries and cavity prevention.

Tooth Decay vs. Erosion

Knowing the difference between tooth decay and tooth erosion will further your understanding of how different foods affect your oral health. The two conditions may sound similar, but they stem from different causes:

  • Tooth decay (aka caries or cavities) is the deterioration of enamel due to an abundance of dental plaque, a biofilm created by destructive bacteria and bolstered by high sugar intake.
  • Tooth erosion (aka demineralization) is the corrosion of enamel due to the consistent intake of highly acidic liquids and foods.

Thus, the overconsumption of products that are both acidic and high in sugar can compound the destruction of your teeth, even exposing the underlying dentin.

Diet and Gum Disease

Yet another way that nutrition and oral health are connected is the relationship between malnutrition and gum disease. Periodontal diseases are common consequences of poor gum health. Such chronic diseases are rampant, affecting as much as 90% of people worldwide.

  • Gingivitis: The most common gum ailment is a byproduct of dental plaque. In addition to causing tooth decay, plaque buildup leads to inflamed gums.
  • Periodontitis: This harmful periodontal disease damages the soft tissue in your mouth and results in tooth loss. When dental plaque calcifies, it forms calculus. Calculus causes pathogenic microbes to set up shop along your gums and wreak havoc.
  • Scurvy: Caused by a lack of vitamin C, scurvy causes a host of acid-producing bacteria to settle on the gum line.

Poor periodontal health affects your quality of life beyond the condition of your gums. Many studies have identified a connection between oral diseases like periodontitis and systemic ailments like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and lung diseases. In that way, your mouth says a lot about your health.

Foods to Avoid

Now that you understand the connection between nutrition and oral health, let’s look at some foods to avoid.

Several beverages and foods are harmful because they have a low pH value, making them acidic. Some of these are doubly destructive because they’re also high in sugar (fructose or sucrose). They include:

  • Red wine
  • Candy
  • Fruit juices, especially citrus-based drinks made from oranges, grapefruit, lemon, or limes
  • Soft drinks, particularly tart or sour ones containing citric acid, malic acid, or phosphoric acid
  • Vinegar, including apple cider vinegar and pickled foods
  • Alcohol

If you consume these foods, it’s best to do so along with other foods with higher pH to help cancel out the acidity. It’s essential to brush your teeth and floss after meals to remove any lingering food particles and remove anything sticky clinging to your mouth.

Be wary of high-carb snacks that contain sugars or starches. Some snacks to avoid are:

  • Cereal often contains sweeteners
  • Potato chips get stuck to your teeth and the sharp edges can damage gum tissue
  • French bread and other crusty breads can get stuck in your teeth and the sharp crust can cause gum damage
  • Popcorn kernel husks can get stuck between teeth and gums, damaging both

Holistic oral wellness depends on understanding your mouth and treating it well. If you want to avoid poor oral health, look at your diet. Encourage these habits early in your children, as proper nutrition and oral health are crucial for adolescents as their mouths develop.

Nutrients You Need

Proper nutrition that fosters a healthy oral cavity is about more than just avoiding harmful foods. Fill your plate with foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, focusing on the best food groups.

The vitamins that your mouth needs most are:

  • Vitamin A
  • B vitamins, including folate and B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K2

Essential minerals for proper mouth nutrition include:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus

Ingesting and absorbing these nutrients can help ensure that your mouth remains healthy.

The Best Foods for Oral Health

What are some foods that are good for your mouth?

  • Spinach and kale
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, peas, and various legumes
  • Fresh, fiber-packed fruits and vegetables
  • Cheese
  • Sugar-free chewing gum

These foods promote good oral health because they are packed with the vitamins and minerals listed previously or promote saliva flow (in the case of gum, which has been shown to help prevent tooth decay). Plus, early investigations may see a link between fruit and vegetables and reducing the risk of oral cancer (although current evidence is limited).

What about mouth-healthy drinks?

  • Water: keeps plaque from building up and dilutes acids
  • Green tea: provides antioxidants in the form of polyphenols
  • Milk: contains calcium, which strengthens enamel

While dairy products are good for your teeth as sources of calcium, make sure that these drinks haven’t been sweetened. Even milk — which is usually a healthy beverage — may contain sugars.

When you need a snack between meals, reach for something low in sugar and acidity, such as:

  • Raw vegetables
  • Nuts
  •  Seeds
  •  Crackers
  •  Cheese

Preventive Oral Hygiene

Here’s how to keep your mouth healthy: Avoid sugary and acidic foods while eating a nutrient-rich diet. In addition, never underestimate the importance of proper daily dental care when it comes to maintaining a healthy oral cavity. Maintain healthy teeth by:

  • Flossing: The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends flossing daily.
  • Brushing: Brush at least twice a day. Use a gentle, soft-bristle brush to cause less abrasive wear to the enamel or gingival recession.
  • Toothpaste: Instead of using toothpaste with fluoride, opt for a natural product that promotes healthy gums and oral health, such as Revitin.
  • Oil pulling: This teeth-whitening practice is healthier than using mouthwash and inhibits the spread of stain-causing bacteria.
  • Professional appointments: Visit a dentist’s office twice every year for cleanings and inspections.

If you don’t already have a dental hygienist, and are in the New York City area, we invite you to schedule a consultation at Rejuvenation Dentistry. We take a holistic approach to oral health by preventing health problems before they start.

At Rejuvenation Dentistry, we promote total body health care. Our offices offer dental hygiene and nutrition consultations to discuss your general health and nutritional status.

If you suffer from dental anxiety, we’re here to help. Our biologic dental practices in Manhattan and East Hampton are committed to making your office visit stress-free. We want to improve your quality of life beyond simply having nice teeth and healthy gums.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.