by Matthew Standridge, DDS, FAGD 1/1/2020
Cavities are the most common disease among today’s youth, yet diet is a topic often neglected in dental offices. Everyone knows that sugar is bad for their teeth, but this in-depth explanation shows exactly how the modern diet is driving dental disease.
How Does Your Diet Impact Your Dental Health?
It’s no secret that sugar causes cavities by damaging the protective layer of enamel on your teeth. However, this simplified explanation is what leads many people to underestimating the true power their diet has over their oral health.
Unfortunately, many people are not seeing the full picture because making good food choices is such an under-discussed topic in modern dental offices, which has led many people to believe that they can eat whatever they want, so long as they brush and floss twice a day. However, that’s simply not true. As I always say, you can’t out-brush a bad diet.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NICDR) recognizes that our mouths are filled with hundreds of bacteria. Some bacteria are beneficial to our oral health, but certain types of harmful bacteria actually feed on sugar. Thus, the sugar in the foods we consume powers them, resulting in the production of acids that destroy tooth enamel.
Cavities, which are caused by bacterial infection, are a direct result of these acids. Cavities begin in the enamel, but are generally not diagnosed until the hole has eroded deeper into the inner layers of the tooth where the infection can eventually lead to tooth pain and tooth loss if not treated properly.
Why Cavities Used To Be Rare
With the above information in mind, it seems that the most logical thing to do is begin watching your sugar intake, but that’s a lot harder than you may think. The truth is, sugar is hiding in all sorts of modern foods that have long been purported as healthy.
The fact is, most carbohydrates (known as “fermentable” carbohydrates) are actually turned into sugar, which begins to explain why the modern diet is driving widespread tooth decay. Our ancestors did not consume a lot of carbohydrates because their “primal” diets were based primarily on low-sugar, high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods.
In contrast, carbohydrates are many people’s primary source of calories these days thanks to the modern diet’s foundation focusing on grains and pastas. This is bad news for your teeth. To put it into perspective, experts agree that “foods such as chips, bread, pasta or crackers can be as harmful to the teeth as candy.”
What You Should Eat for Better Teeth
So, if you are looking to promote good oral health and fight tooth decay, the best thing you can do is seek to limit your carbohydrate intake–especially simple and refined carbs. Of course, it’s best to cut sugars and grains out of your diet completely, although that can be a hard sale for those of us who consume breads and similar products as daily staples.
If you are looking to commit with full force, consider looking into a whole foods or “paleo” style diet that seeks to reduce processed foods (and the carbohydrates that result from processing ingredients) as much as possible. Limit your consumption of sugary beverages that coat your teeth and also stay away from candy and sugary gum that stays in your mouth for long periods of time.
Also, rather than focusing completely on what you should be consuming less of, pay attention to the good foods that you should be eating more of, like fiber-rich and nutrient dense vegetables, low sugar fruits like berries, and mineral-rich, low-sugar dairy products like whole cheeses (if tolerated). These foods help fight tooth decay by giving your body and its good bacteria more of what it needs to stay healthy and fight off bad bacteria.
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