Diet and Your Teeth
Like the rest of your body, the state of your dental health is affected by what you eat. Of particular importance are the effects of sugar and acid.
Everyone knows that sugar helps cause dental decay. Bacteria in your mouth are able to digest the sugars and turn it into harmful acids, which eat away at your teeth and cause cavities. But not everyone is aware of where the sugar is coming from.
- The most obvious culprits are sweets, desserts and soft drinks. But less obvious items include most breakfast cereals, fruit juices, energy drinks and sugar with your tea or coffee. Even more innocuous are those that are laced with natural sweeteners, which can be just as deleterious but do not show up as ‘sugar’ on the ingredients label. These can include rice syrup and honey, which are included in muesli bars, cough drops and sweetened baked goods.
- An excess of sugar in your diet also has negative repercussions for your general health, not just your teeth. Try to limit your intake to mealtimes and avoid too man sweetened drinks in between meals. Artificial sugars (such as Splenda or Equal) can be a great alternate way to get your sugar fix without all the harmful effects on processed sugar.
- On the other hand, some food and drinks can actually stop and even reverse the progress of decay. These foods generally contain calcium in one form or another, which is a major component of our teeth. Most dairy foods, such as milk and cheeses, are great for protecting your teeth. Drinking plenty of water is also great – Ballarat’s water supply was fluoridated in 2009 and we can already see its effects.
Everyone is aware of how bad sugar can be for your teeth. But one of the greatest challenges to modern dentistry is the growing level of acid in our diet. Unlike decay, which can be reversed, a constant intake of acid slowly wears away layer upon layer of our tooth enamel. We call the result ‘erosion’, and it can result in sensitive, shorter and worn-looking teeth. What is unfortunate is that even those who are diligent and conscientious with their toothbrushing can fall victim to erosion.
- Dietary acid is present in many foods and drinks. The easiest way to tell is if something tastes sour, or has a ‘zing’ to it. These include lemon juice and vinaigrettes. However, the more common sources of erosion are with drinks. In particular, energy drinks and especially sports drinks have high amounts of dietary acid in them. Most people sip on them slowly and drink copious amounts, which compounds the effect of the acid on their teeth. Young patients are therefore particularly susceptible to erosion, however the wine present in older patients means that they are not immune either.
- The best way to reduce the effects of erosion are through changes to your diet. Minimizing the amount and duration of these acidic drinks will limit the acid’s effect on your teeth. Staying hydrated also helps with diluting the acids in your mouth, with milk having the added effect of its high calcium content.
At Dr Virginia Williams’s Dental Practice, we understand that there can be many unknowns about diet and your teeth. We are happy to explain and educate you so you are better informed about the effects of your food on your dental health. To have a chat about how your diet may be affecting your dental health, give us a call on (03) 5331 9285.