Effects of diet on your oral health

It is no secret that the sugar in sweets and chocolate can lead to tooth decay but there are also a number of common dietary mistakes that people make that are negatively impacting on their oral health, that they are simply unaware of and are bad for their teeth.

Tooth decay is caused more by the frequency of sugar than the actual amount. Our mouths are full of bacteria and when we eat food that is high in carbohydrates (particularly sugary or starchy foods) the bacteria in our mouths breaks down these sugars for energy creating an acidic waste product (lactic acid) which break down the enamel on the tooth surface eventually causing cavities in the teeth. Dental Plaque is a sticky layer that forms on your teeth known as a bio-film which comprises of a complex community of microorganisms. If dental plaque is not regularly removed the plaque acts as a medium for holding the plaque directly against the tooth surface which makes good oral hygiene all the more important.

Each time we eat and the bacteria breaks down the sugars into acids, the environment in our mouth becomes more acidic, this process is known as an acid attack. Therefore, it is recommended that any sugary food is consumed at meal times when the mouth is already exposed to an acid attack. Limiting the number of acid attacks to four times a day will reduce the likelihood of decay.

Our saliva is designed to remineralise the teeth and act as a buffer to neutralise acidity and return the mouth to its natural pH within one hour. Every time you eat, no matter how small the amount consumed, your teeth are again exposed to an hours’ worth of acid attack.

During an acid attack the enamel is weaker than usual and therefore brushing your teeth during this time is best avoided as the manual brushing action may be contributing to the removal of the tooth surface.

You can increase saliva flow by 10 times the normal rate by chewing sugar free chewing gum after eating or drinking and this will aid in the remineralisation of the enamel layer and help prevent decay caused by lactic acid.

When it comes to a snack in between meals then fruit can be a healthy alternative and whilst high in naturally occurring sugars they are far less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugars are contained within their molecular structure. However, when fruit and vegetables are juiced or blended into juice or a smoothie these sugars are released which can cause damage to the teeth, so whilst providing a portion of your five-a-day they are best limited to once a day to prevent damage to the teeth.

The other thing to be mindful of, is that dried fruit is significantly higher in natural sugars because as all the water is removed from the fruit it concentrates all the sugar into a smaller form. Therefore the volume of sugar per gram of dried fruit will be considerably higher than if you ate the same volume of fresh fruit.

You may also hear your dentist talk about ‘buffer foods’. These are foods such as cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables, cayenne peppers and garlic, all of which are highly alkaline which suppress the growth of cariogenic (decay causing) bacteria and support the ‘good’ bacteria in the mouth. Foods such as milk, cheese, nuts and meat are high in calcium and phosphorus which are important to strong teeth and healthy gum. Cheese has a pH of 5.9, making it almost pH Neutral and therefore also a good snack.

Whilst people are often aware that what they eat has an affect on their dental health the role of what we choose to drink is often overlooked. You will most likely be aware that fizzy drinks are best avoided as they are packed full of sugar, however, even the zero sugar fizzy drinks are still carbonated to give them their fizz and this can lead to acid erosion of the tooth surface but the effects of this can be minimised slightly by drinking through a straw to avoid covering the teeth in the fizzy drink. Many people will drink ‘no added sugar’ cordial believing that this is safe for the teeth, however, these juices still contain natural sugars which can be equally as damaging for the teeth and it is recommended that between meals you stick to plain water for sipping on throughout the day as even flavoured water contains the same sugars.

You have probably been to a dental check-up and wondered why the dentists will ask how many units of alcohol you will consume in an average week and also what type of alcohol you are drinking. This is because not only does alcohol have an impact on your overall health but can be a contributing factor to dental disease. As mentioned above, not only does the sugars in alcoholic drinks contribute towards an acid attack and the acids leading to dental erosions but your alcohol consumption can also put you at a higher risk of oral cancer, particularly if you are partial to drinking spirits.

Anything we put into our bodies is broken down and the body tries to extract the nutrients and energy reserves. Our bodies break down ethanol (alcohol) in two stages. The first stage breaks the ethanol into another molecule called acetaldehyde, which is then quickly broken down by a second enzyme which converts it into acetate, which the body can use as a source of energy. This process alone is relatively harmless and the body is relatively efficient in this breakdown in most people, however, Acetaldehyde (the product of the first stage of ethanol breakdown) is a highly reactive, toxic chemical and if the body’s mechanisms of breaking it down are overwhelmed then this can build up and cause mutations in DNA which can lead to an increased risk of developing certain cancers.

For more advice regarding your diet and dental health, please contact the team to arrange a routine check-up: