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Its Role in General & Oral Health


Oral Health & Nutrition Through the Life Cycle

Did you know that approximately 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, 60 million are obese and 9 million are extremely obese.


Good maternal nutrition is essential for the development of a baby's oral health during pregnancy. Children's primary (baby) teeth begin forming at about the sixth week of pregnancy, and begin mineralizing at around the third to fourth month of pregnancy; the mother's diet must be adequate in all nutrients, especially calcium, phosphorous, and protein to facilitate this process.

Other guidelines for a healthy pregnancy diet include:

  • Liberal intake of all food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein sources and dairy products;
  • Possible iron supplement (upon doctor's recommendation) to offset iron deficiency common in pregnancy;
  • Sufficient folic acid (from fortified bread, green leafy vegetables and /or supplements) all during a woman's childbearing years to help prevent birth defects.

Nutritional deficits can cause defects in tooth development, and salivary flow and composition. Deficiencies in protein and calories, Vitamins A, C, D, and iodine, and excesses in fluoride and Vitamin D, have all been shown to affect the development of human teeth.

Children and Teenagers

Child eating pasta.

Children's teeth continue to develop and mineralize from before birth (primary teeth) through the early teens (permanent third molars — wisdom teeth). In addition, the other tissues in the body are constantly recycling, and are in constant need of nutrients to support new growth and development.

A healthy diet will ensure proper mineralization and tissue growth of teeth and bones. In addition, the erupted teeth are susceptible to dental caries initiated by frequent consumption of simple sugars in the diet.

Once teeth erupt into the mouth, surface mineralization will continue to be affected by saliva, food, fluids, dentifrices and fluoride rinses.

In childhood, major dietary risks tend to be the constant oral contact from natural or added-sugar-containing foods in bottles or “sippy” cups. In the teen years, major contributing factors are the constant availability and use of sweetened beverages such as sodas, flavored waters or sports drinks.

Did you know that approximately 62 percent of American females and 67 percent of males are considered overweight.


Adults still need an adequate diet for maintenance of body structure and tissue integrity, especially skin, connective tissues and bones. Adults are also at risk for developing dental decay and periodontal (gum) disease.

Nutritional deficiencies can reduce resistance to disease and the ability to fight infection. The signs of advanced nutrient deficiencies are usually first seen in the oral cavity. B-complex vitamin deficiency (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin) can cause cracks in the corners of the mouth and changes of the tongue. Iron deficiency can result in pale color of the tongue.

Dry mouth from medications can also increase the decay-promoting risk of the diet.

Older Adults

Older couple.

Senior citizens face a variety of challenges that can affect their oral and nutritional health, and are at particular risk for nutritional deficiencies.

Aging affects our ability to digest and absorb nutrients. As the mouth dries due to lack of salivary flow or medications, older individuals are more prone to decay. Appetite and the sense of taste and smell may decline as well. Dehydration is a common concern.

Common social issues such as lack of money, lack of ability to get and prepare foods and loneliness can undermine people's ability and desire to obtain a healthy diet. Lack of teeth or dentures can make matters worse by making it difficult to chew foods that are part of a healthy diet.

Older people should not overlook the importance of nutrition to health and well-being in the face of these other more pressing concerns.

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