Diet and Dental Health: Something to Smile About
Editor’s note: This post was originally written by Lois McBean, MS, RDN and published in 2018. We have updated it with the most recent information.
How do you feel about your smile? Do you shine it big and wide for the world to see, or hide it behind your hands because you’re embarrassed about the state of your teeth?
Many people may think that regularly brushing and flossing teeth is all it takes for a healthy smile, but diet and overall nutrition also plays a role in mouth health, including risk of tooth decay (dental caries, or cavities).
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a time to increase awareness of the benefits of dental health and ways to achieve it for children and adults alike.
Cause and Effect
Tooth decay affects one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 years and more than half of those aged 12 to 19 years. Nearly one-fourth of all adults in the U.S. have untreated tooth decay. Untreated tooth decay causes painful infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, and learning. The good news is that tooth decay and other mouth problems are preventable.
Most people know that sugar can cause cavities and the advice for years has been to limit foods and drinks with a lot of sugar, such as carbonated soft drinks and candy. Other foods can be a problem, too; acidic foods, such as orange juice, can eat away at tooth enamel and sticky foods such as caramels, and dried fruits. These types of foods can lead to cavity-causing decay.
The Dairy Advantage
On the flip side, there may be foods that help protect teeth from tooth decay. Cheese may be one of these foods. Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend cheese as a potential cavity fighter. Not only does it contain protein, calcium, and phosphorus – all nutrients that may protect teeth—chewing cheese increases saliva production which acts as a natural rinse for the mouth, washing away cavity-causing bacteria.
Consuming milk after eating sugary foods may help reduce tooth decay, as well. Milk may help neutralize the acid in the mouth resulting from sugary foods.
In general, the ADA and AAPD recommend dairy foods including cheese, milk and yogurt as healthy snacks for a healthy smile.
ADA’s recommended nutrition tips to reduce the risk of tooth decay are:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes to remove sugars and food particles from your teeth.
- Limit between-meal snacking.
- Keep added sugar in your diet to a minimum by making wise food and beverage choices.
- Include dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and water (particularly fluoridated water) in your diet.
A healthy smile starts in childhood, but it’s never too late to establish good oral health practices, including consuming a nutritious diet containing dairy foods.