How does what you eat affect your oral health? Asks Yola

How does what you eat affect your oral health?

Firstly most people know the importance of a balanced diet for your overall health, consisting of approximately: 40% fruit and vegetables, 25% of fibre rich carbohydrates, 25% protein and 10% fats. But do most people know how important a balanced diet is on specifically your oral health?

Oral health for me includes a range of things, firstly the ability to chew and swallow without discomfort but also the ability to speak and convey emotions, through smiling perhaps. As well as having a mouth and throat free of any diseases or pathogens.

Well making sure you have a variety of food helps you get the sufficient vitamins and minerals for your body entirely, but it also ensures that you have enough vitamin C and vitamin A for your teeth. These vitamins are crucial for helping with healthy gums and quickly healing wounds – vitamin C- and rebuilding tooth enamel- vitamin A. Furthermore, your teeth and gums are where the first stages of digestion occur, so not only does what you eat effect your overall health it has a direct impact on your teeth, evidence that supports this is the fact that one of the first signs of malnourishment or poor nutrition can be seen in your mouth. For example, a lack of vitamin C can cause bleeding and gum disease. Moreover eating a balanced diet increases the chewing activity which occurs within your mouth this causes an increase in saliva production which protects the hard and soft tissue of the mouth; as well as keeping the mouth moist.

This leads me directly onto how water can have a huge impact on your oral health. Water not only helps you maintain fresh breath but also has a key role in preventing the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth, the main one being streptococcus mutans which feed off the carbohydrates that you eat. The main problems with streptococcus mutans are that as a bi-product of its appetite it produces enamel-eroding acid which will, in time, cause you to have an increased chance of cavities, the water helps wash away this acid and hence protects your teeth, another way of reducing the acid from having an effect on your teeth is by reducing the sugar and simple carbohydrates that you eat which are easily fermentable, hence decreasing your cavity risk. Water also, as a side note, improves digestion as it helps with the breaking down of food.

Another, smaller yet crucial, factor that should be considered is in the order in which you eat your food. Yes, some people choose to eat foods with a smaller after taste first in order not to change the flavour of the next mouthful, but should you consider which food you are leaving on your teeth? Of course after meals there will be food left on your teeth, but certain foods are much worse than others. For example acidic food, tomatoes, citrus fruits, sugary drinks, can cause issues as these food erode enamel which makes you much more susceptible to tooth decay over time; another issue found with acidic food is that it can irritate mouth sores. Hence these foods should be considered eaten at the start of a meal then your mouth has the rest of the meal to wash away the acid, using the saliva and remaining food.

The best foods for your teeth are fruit and vegetables, as these are high in water and fibre so balances the sugars in them already. Also the water cleans your teeth as well as stimulating saliva production to wash down the harmful acid, previously mentioned. Another good type of food is calcium-rich foods like cheese, milk, plain yogurt, leafy greens and almonds, this is because the calcium contained in them strengthens and helps with the structure of your teeth; fermented dairy is good too because it contains bacteria which slows down the rate in which germs replicate in the oral cavity. Another food which is good is protein-rich foods for example meat, poultry, fish, milk, and eggs as these all contain phosphorus, which is good for strong teeth, like calcium. Finally a food you probably wouldn’t expect to be as good for your teeth as it is, is cranberries, these contain lots of anthocyanins which prevent growth of pathogens in the oral tissue; many mouthwashes contain anthocyanins as they protect against cavities too.

Now why does any of this matter? Well it matters for two main reasons: firstly the convenience of fast food is growing meaning that more and more people are turning to fast food as an ‘easy meal’ but then starting to rely on it. As well as making sure we have a good ability to chew as if we lack that ability we will struggle to swallow as well as digest the food which will then lead us to missing out on key parts to our diet.

Going back to the issues with fast food, not only does it increase our risk of obesity and diabetes it can affect your oral health too. With fast food becoming more of a stable in the ‘modern’ diet people should know in more details about the negative effects it has on your body. Like mentioned before sugar (as well as salt) is bad for you teeth as this causes plaque acid to form; due to fast food having so much added salt and sugar this is really a concern and increases your chance of cavities and gum disease. Also the fizzy drinks and or milkshakes that come with the meals also have a negative effect on your teeth like mentioned previously. Moreover as previously mentioned the likelihood of getting diabetes if you are regularly eating fast food is higher than if you were not. Diabetes then influences your oral health. Studies have shown that people with diabetes have a higher chance of getting periodontal disease (also known has gum disease) because of this it is important for people with diabetes to have good blood glucose control to prevent this risk being even higher.

Now on an extreme note say your oral health was bad and you started to lose teeth because of it, this will clearly affect your ability to chew, chewing may seem to have only one purpose. That being to make the food small enough to swallow but in fact it has many benefits for your body. Well firstly breaking your food down into smaller pieces makes it easier to digest as there is a higher surface area for enzymes as well as reducing the amount of stress on your oesophagus. Moreover when food is chewed more the saliva production increases which realises digestive enzymes which help start to break down the food. So if you lose a few teeth the ability to chew will be greatly affected.

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