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Nutrition & Oral Health

How Diet Impacts Dental and General Health

By Dr. Paula Moynihan


Diet And Dental Erosion

Tooth erosion leads to a progressive irreversible loss of tooth structure that is chemically etched away from tooth surfaces by acid. It is another ever-increasing problem in industrialized countries. It results from the increased ingestion of acidic beverages — soft drinks, fruit juices, sodas, and sports drinks. Not only are they high in sugars content, but are also very acidic — even the diet drinks. Extrinsic acids contained in these beverages when consumed frequently, once or more a day, can cause erosion. Any acidic drink even if mildly acidic may initiate it.

Intrinsic acids, which are produced by the body, cause dental erosion following vomiting, regurgitation, or reflux, and can be extremely damaging to the teeth. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is now a recognized cause of tooth erosion from hydrochloric (stomach) acid. It is responsible for the extensive erosion of teeth seen in conditions like bulimia and anorexia where reflux is common and constant.

Overzealous oral hygiene and grinding habits can also worsen dental erosion. Brushing your teeth after consuming an acidic product, before the saliva has had a chance to buffer (neutralize) the acid and re-mineralize the tooth surface, will actually cause the removal of the softened enamel.

Recommendations To Promote Good Oral And General Health

  1. DO eat a healthy nutritionally sound diet, get plenty of exercise, and follow the recommendations of the USDA (
  2. DON’T eat sugary snacks between meals.
  3. DO eat sugars in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  4. DON’T consume more than a maximum equivalent of 6 teaspoons of processed sugar per day (or 3 if a child.)
  5. DO limit the amount and frequency of soft drinks, juices, sodas and sport drinks — to minimize the risk of tooth decay and acid erosion.
  6. DON’T eat for at least an hour before bedtime especially foods containing processed sugars — low salivary flow rates during sleep reduce the ability to neutralize acid increasing the risk of tooth decay.

Foods That Protect Against Decay

Cheese: Consuming cheese after a sugary snack prevents increase in acidity. Cheese stimulates saliva and is rich in calcium influencing the balance of re-calcifying teeth and protecting against loss of calcium.

Cow’s Milk: Contains lactose, which is less acid producing than other sugars and does not promote decay as readily. In addition, it also contains calcium, phosphorus, and casein, all of which help stop decay. However bottle-feeding milk at night can cause decay.

Human Breast Milk: Contains 7% lactose and is lower in calcium and phosphate. It generally does not initiate decay except in cases of high frequency nighttime feeding and prolonged on demand feeding.

Plant Foods: Are fibrous and protect teeth by mechanically stimulating saliva. Peanuts, hard cheeses, and gum that contains xylitol can act the same way.

Black & Green Teas: Are particularly rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, which are complex antioxidant compounds found in many plant foods. The fluoride in black tea may also protect against decay.

Chocolate: There is some evidence that cocoa in an unrefined form (without added sugars) may have some anti-decay potential due to polyphenolic compounds present, but processed chocolate is too high in sugar to be good for the teeth.

Looking after your teeth is important if you want them to last a lifetime! Sticking to a nutritionally sound diet that is low in free sugars, high in fiber — lots of fruits and vegetables — and drinking plenty of water (preferably fluoridated) will safeguard your oral and dental health as well as your general health and well-being.

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