It’s true! Do you have gingivitis, periodontal disease, mouth sores or frequent cavities? Most people know that good nutrition is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle, but did you also know that what you eat actually has a direct impact on the health of your teeth and gums?
Here is something to smile about: a well balanced diet that is high in fiber can improve your oral health, and may reduce the risk of other diseases as well. Poor nutrition impacts the entire immune system, making it less efficient at fighting disease – including oral disease. As a result, people whose diet is lacking in key nutrients are more susceptible to a variety of systemic disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As a matter of fact, a study that appeared in the Journal of Periodontology reported that periodontal (gum and bone) disease progresses faster and is more severe in patients whose diet is deficient in certain nutrients. The key nutrients for a healthy mouth include:
Calcium: Teeth and the bones that support them are strengthened by the calcium they contain; and when there is not enough in your diet, the risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay is greater. Researchers have studied the relationship between calcium intake and gum disease, and have found that the participants with the healthiest teeth and gums consumed more than 800 mg of calcium daily, whereas those who consumed fewer than 500 mg were 54% more likely to develop gum disease. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, however, beans, oysters and certain green, leafy vegetables are also rich in calcium. Calcium is also commercially added (fortified) to some juices and breakfast cereals. Supplements are available in various dosages for the lactose-intolerant and those who are calcium deficient in their diet.
Iron: Iron deficiency can cause tongue inflammation and mouth sores. Iron is found in many foods, particularly liver and red meat, but other iron-rich foods include bran cereals, some nuts, and spices.
Vitamin B3 (niacin): A lack of vitamin B3 can cause bad breath and canker sores in the mouth. To boost your B3 levels, eat chicken and fish.
Vitamins B12 and B2 (riboflavin) and folic Acid: When you do not consume enough of the vitamins B12 and B2 in your diet, you can develop mouth sores and a condition called pernicious anemia in which the body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Pernicious anemia is often diagnosed in the dental office because patients with the condition will have a swollen red, shiny tongue. All three of these nutrients are essential for healthy gums .Red meat, chicken, liver, pork, fish, and dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, are good sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B2 is found in foods like pasta, bagels, spinach, and almonds. Spinach and broccoli are good sources of folic acid.
Vitamin C. Too little vitamin C may lead to bleeding gums and loose teeth. Not only does this vitamin support a healthy immune system for fighting disease, vitamin C is necessary to help the body produce collagen, a substance that gives support and structure to the gums and other body tissues. Sweet potatoes, raw red peppers, strawberries and citrus fruit like oranges are great sources of vitamin C.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for the body absorb calcium. A diet low in vitamin D may cause a burning sensation in the mouth, with a metallic or bitter taste and dry mouth. Drink milk, and eat egg yolks and fish to increase your vitamin D intake.
Fiber: Foods with fiber stimulate saliva flow, which is the body’s natural defense against cavities. About 20 minutes after you eat something containing sugars or starches, saliva begins to neutralize the acids that destroy tooth enamel. As an added benefit, the fruits and vegetables that are fiber-rich are also good sources of other important nutrients!
Bacteria feed on leftover foods in the mouth and they produce acid which causes tooth decay. Carbohydrates like breads and pasta, or sticky foods that contain sugar – even natural sugar can be as harmful as a candy bar because they cling to the teeth and are not easily washed away by saliva. Soda that is high in sugar presents an obvious cavity risk, but all soda contains acids and phosphorous that erodes the tooth enamel. Even the fruits and vegetables that are so important nutritionally contain sugars that are damaging if left in contact with the teeth. You have heard it before: good homecare, including brushing and flossing are essential to a healthy mouth, and don’t forget about regular checkups and cleaning!
How sure are you that your diet is well balanced? Could you be at risk? Older adults or people with health issues that make eating certain foods difficult are at particular risk for oral health problems, but vegetarians who avoid meat and animal products may also be at higher risk for gum disease if they lack the nutrients these foods provide. Ensure that you’re getting the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs… speak to your physician and dentist, and check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.