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Nutrition & Oral Health

How Nutrition Impacts Oral and General Health

By Dr. Paula Moynihan

Nutrition and oral health.

In Part 1 of this important series, we will focus on diet as it relates to dental/oral health. Be sure to look for upcoming topics in this series.

Can you imagine how many times a day a compliment is given to those with beautiful smiles? Most of the time, the compliment-giver is recognizing the beauty of a person's teeth. After all, teeth are what we show to the world when we smile. Teeth affect our self-esteem and our ability to socialize, as well as our ability to enjoy food. Not to mention, the most important factor of all, the impact teeth have on our nutrition and health.

In Part 1 of this series we will explore what we eat and how we eat... the variety of food in our diets... all of which contribute to the social experience and enjoyment of food. Further, we'll discover just how oral health impacts our general health and well being. A sound and nutritionally adequate diet is not only vital for general health, but also for the proper formation of teeth and maintenance of oral health.[1]

There are no ifs, ands, or buts, that oral health is a huge part of our general health. And a well balanced diet is essential to growth and health maintenance.

Diet, Nutrition and Teeth

Teeth live in an environment that is constantly changing throughout our lives, as do the teeth themselves. While they develop with strong and protective outer coatings of enamel (the hardest and most impervious structure produced in nature) teeth are not completely immune to the ravages of disease and wear.

Diet plays a major role in dental decay. It contributes to the healthy development of enamel and has a significant role in erosion caused by acids. Let's take a look at some dental diseases:

  • Dental caries (decay)
  • Developmental defects of enamel
  • Dental erosion
  • Periodontal (gum) disease

Regarding periodontal disease, diet and nutrition seem to play a relatively minor role, especially in modern industrialized societies. However, dental research tells us that dental caries (decay) rates have gone down in the last three decades. That is largely due to improved prevention, especially incorporating the use of fluoride, which we'll discuss later in this review.

Oral Conditions Change As We Age

Deciduous (baby) teeth are most susceptible to decay soon after they erupt from 3-6 months of age and so are permanent (adult) teeth which begin erupting from 6-7 years of age. Although what a pregnant woman consumes is important for tooth development, what the child eats is much more important immediately following eruption of the teeth, as we will see. With people now living longer, decay rates are likely to increase in older age groups. This is key in knowing that more attention needs to be paid to diet and dental care in our later years.

Keeping your natural teeth into later life is vitally important. Our natural teeth will enable us to enjoy food more, especially the nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables and fiber that provide us with a lifetime of general health.

Dental caries or tooth decay as it is commonly known is a disease process. Bacteria in your mouth produce organic acids from dietary sugars particularly sucrose (what is most commonly known as sugar), which concentrates in dental plaque, that sticky whitish film that collects on surfaces of our teeth. When sugars are ingested, an increase in acidity results which causes dissolution of the enamel and dentine of the teeth leading to cavities.

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