Dental Caries and Diet
Dental caries, also known as tooth decay, are cavities in teeth that are caused by acid produced by bacteria that eat away at tooth enamel. The bacteria feed on sugars and starches left on teeth, producing acid as a byproduct that breaks down tooth enamel.
Preventing Dental Caries:
Children and adults can prevent dental caries by practicing good oral hygiene, such as brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and visiting the dentist regularly.
Eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar and processed foods can also help prevent dental caries.
According to a systematic review of research published in 2021, there is strong evidence to support the link between diet and dental health. The review found that a diet high in sugar and processed foods was associated with an increased risk of dental caries, while a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains was associated with a reduced risk.
Foods that are good for dental health include:
Water: Fluoridated water helps make the teeth more resistant to the acid attacks that can cause cavities.
Dairy: Milk, yogurt and cheese contain protein and calcium which help strengthen your teeth.
Lean Protein: meat, fish, poultry, milk and eggs contain phosphorous and protein that help protect and rebuild your tooth enamel.
Fruit and Vegetables: are high in water and fibre which help clean teeth. Chewing also stimulates saliva production which washes harmful acids and food particles away from your teeth.
Nuts: are a source of protein important for tooth strength and encourage chewing which produces saliva.
Sugar-free chewing gum: can help clean teeth and stimulate saliva production.
Tooth Friendly Snacks:
Cucumber rounds and a slice of cheese
Turkey slice wrapped around a carrot stick
Yogurt and berries
Apple slices and peanut butter
Veggies and hummus or tzatziki
Fruit and yogurt smoothie
Banana and a glass of milk
Healthy Foods to watch out for:
Citrus fruits (lemon, lime and orange) and tomatoes have an acidic effect on tooth enamel and should be consumed with a meal. Avoid sipping on lemon water all day as this exposes your tooth enamel to acid all day.
Dried fruits like raisins and dried fruit bars will stick in teeth and should be consumed with nuts or as part of a meal.
Foods that are bad for dental health include:
Sugary drinks, such as pop and fruit juice: can coat teeth in sugar and acid
Candy and other sugary treats: feed the bacteria that cause dental caries
Starchy sugary foods: Get stuck in the molars.
Factors that affect the risk for dental caries:
- The sugar and starch content of a food.
- How often a food is eaten throughout the day. Frequent snacking increases the risk of dental caries.
- The sequence of foods eaten. High sugar foods eaten after a meal significantly decreases risk compared to eating them alone.
- The combination of foods eaten. Cheese consumed with or immediately after ingestion of a sucrose solution or snack has been shown to limit the fall in plaque pH. Cheeses stimulate an abundant salivary flow, which helps to remove residual sugar from the mouth and neutralizes plaque acids. In addition, cheese promotes incorporation of high levels of calcium and phosphate into human dental plaque and reduces the amount of demineralization.
- The amount of time the food remains in the mouth. Eating sticky or dry foods that remain on the teeth increase risk. Rinsing or brushing after eating significantly decreases risk.
- The amount of saliva in the mouth. Saliva serves to dilute and buffer the acid. Individuals with a reduced saliva production are more prone to dental caries.
Reference: Moynihan, P., & Petersen, P. E. (2021). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases. Public health nutrition, 24(14), 4076-4087.