Nutrition and Oral Health

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by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN 

Did you know that what you eat influences your oral health? It’s true – the nutrition decisions you make daily have the power to impact how well your teeth stand the test of time. Let’s take a look at how what you eat affects your teeth.

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pH Levels

What you eat has an effect on the pH level inside your mouth. Consuming a diet high in sugars and starches, for example, contributes to bacteria growth, which causes cavities. The increase in bacteria has a major effect on effect on pH levels. The lower the pH level, the more bacteria are able to grow and attach to tooth enamel, creating cavities, triggering an inflammatory response, and causing a breakdown of the gums, bone, and other supporting structures.

A neutral pH level is 7.0, alkaline pH levels are 7.1 to 14, and acidic pH levels are 6.5 and below. Tooth decay occurs when pH levels reach 5.5 and below. Saliva is saturated with calcium and phosphate at a pH level of 7; at this level, re-mineralization of the teeth occurs. When acid stimulation is too strong, the pH of saliva increases, encouraging the formation of a tooth lesion.

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The pH of saliva is influenced by the acidity content of the foods we eat. Soft drinks, for example, produce an acidic environment in the mouth, as their pH level is 3. If you choose to eat a high-acid food, it is best to consume during a meal along with low-acidity foods to minimize the risk of developing cavities. This helps keep the pH level in the mouth remain in the normal pH range of 6.5 to 7.5.

Certain foods lower the pH level of the mouth, increasing the potential of developing cavities.

Foods that Produce an Acidic Environment

  • Sticky foods like Gummy candy (even vitamins), caramels, taffy, and dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, and currants
  • Lollipops and other hard candies
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Fruit drinks with high-fructose corn syrup
  • Potato or corn chips, pretzels, and crackers
  • Desserts like cookies, cakes, pies, and brownies
  • Cane sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey, syrups, molasses, agave nectar, jams, and jellies
  • Alcohol
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Honey can create an acidic environment in the mouth.

Influences on Oral Health

Certain diseases can negatively impact a person’s oral health, too. These diseases include Diabetes, Heart Disease, Thyroid, Iron Deficiency Anemia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Obesity, Bulimia, and Anorexia. Managing these diseases through healthy eating can improve an individual’s oral health. If you suffer from acid reflux, know that the reflux content is highly acidic and will cause serious tooth damage if untreated. See medical advice for treating this disease.

Current evidence supports the notion that genetics influence the susceptibility of cavities. The variation in strength of tooth enamel development results in the enamel formation gene, which is passed down from generation to generation.  Even though genetics play a role in your oral health, practicing good daily oral hygiene and consuming a healthy diet can help to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

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An imbalance of bacteria, or microbiomes, in the mouth can contribute to dental caries. It is important to incorporate pre- and pro-biotics daily into one’s diet. Assuring healthy oral microbiomes maintains the pH level at neutral, minimizing the development of cavities.

Tips for Maintaining Healthy Teeth & Gums with Nutrition

  • Consume a fiber-rich diet of fresh fruits and vegetables that protect the teeth by stimulating the production of saliva, which cleanses the mouth and makes it less acidic. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate, which aids in restoring minerals to teeth. Eating raw fruits and vegetables will mechanically clean teeth and gums.

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  • Vitamin C found in oranges, limes, kiwi, cantaloupe, papaya, strawberries, red, yellow, and orange peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, snow peas, and sweet potatoes promote healthy collagen in the gums. Consume these foods during a meal to keep the oral pH within an acceptable range of 6.2 to 7.6.
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheeses are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and phosphate and raise the PH level to neutral (6.2 to 7.6) in the mouth, reducing the risk of tooth decay. Calcium provides several other benefits as well. Calcium mixes with plaque, which allows the calcium to stick to teeth, adding further protection from lingering acid. Calcium repairs damaged enamel and strengthens the bones around your teeth, making them more resistant to periodontal disease.
  • Nuts and seeds contain natural fats that coat teeth and help shield them against bacteria by protecting the teeth and strengthening enamel.

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  • Dentists recommend chewing sugarless gum after meals for 20 minutes. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, which loosens plaque, increases the number of natural antibodies in the mouth, and keeps the gums hydrated.
  • Drinking water with and after meals helps eliminate bacteria by reducing the production of acid in the mouth.
  • Probiotics to include yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods daily will encourage healthy oral microbiomes in the mouth.

Recommended Oral Health Practices from the ADA

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
  • Drink water throughout the day.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
  • Eat a healthy diet (Mediterranean Diet) and limit between-meal snacking.
  • Eat sugary foods with meals. Your mouth makes more saliva during meals and helps reduce the effect of the acid production.

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Making positive changes to your eating plan creates a healthy environment for oral health and improves disease outcomes. Consuming a nutrient-rich diet to include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, dairy, and whole grains, holds the key to optimum health.


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