There’s truth to the old adage that “you are what you eat.”
We know that when we eat too many fatty and sugary junk foods, we gain weight and lose vitality. We know that we need to make sure that we get the right vitamins and minerals in our diets, or risk illness. Our choices for nutrition have heavy bearing on our overall wellness. But did you know that “you are what you eat” also applies to your oral health? It’s true.
Poor eating habits, meal timing and/or food choices can make your teeth and gums less healthy and put you at risk of developing tooth decay, gum disease, chronic bad breath and painful, sometimes life-threatening dental infections. Brushing twice a day and after meals, flossing daily, and going for regular dental checkups and cleanings are all important for maintaining good oral health. But so is good nutrition.
Today, let’s take a look at 7 ways that your diet could make or break your smile.
1. You drink soda.
While many people realize that drinking Coca-Cola or root beer, like coffee, can stain our teeth. But did you know that they can also contribute to tooth decay? Sodas, pops, phosphates — whatever you call sugary, carbonated beverages, they’re not good for your teeth.
All of us have bacteria living in our mouths. Unfortunately, those bacteria love sugar. And when they ingest sugar, they process it into acidic waste. The acids they give off attack the enamel of your teeth and eat away at it, causing cavities.
Moreover, sodas have virtually no nutritional value. Even no-sugar “diet sodas” are bad for us (they’re loaded with sodium and can raise blood pressure). Sodas are like dessert — OK to indulge in once in a while, but unhealthy on the regular.
Try unsweetened iced tea instead. Better yet, drink good old H2O.
2. You eat a lot of citrus fruit.
Yes, oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are packed full of Vitamin C and other excellent nutrients. But you know why they taste sour? Because of the citric acid they contain.
Just like the acids that sugar-loving bacteria leave behind on your teeth, citric acid attacks tooth enamel and can cause cavities. That said, you don't need to completely give up citrus fruits and juices. But you should brush your teeth soon after enjoying them.
And yes, it's true: that orange juice and mint toothpaste do make for a nasty flavor combination, so it’s ok to wait a few minutes for the orange juice taste to subside before you brush. If you don’t have the time, try swishing a few mouthfuls of warm water before you brush to wash away any citric residue.
3. You’re not getting enough calcium in your diet.
Your teeth are essentially bone. Bones require calcium to maintain their strength; the same is true of your tooth enamel.
One sign that your teeth may not be getting enough of the calcium they need is sensitivity. If your teeth are becoming sensitive, it may be a sign that micro-fractures are developing in the enamel of your teeth, allowing acids to penetrate in to the sensitive nerve endings. You may need more calcium to shore up the defense, so to speak.
Need to up your calcium intake? Low-fat milk and other dairy foods, leafy green vegetables and broccoli are all rich in it. Or, buy some Tums chewable antacid tablets and eat one or two a day.
4. You drink too much alcohol.
Responsibly drinking the occasional glass of wine, beer, or whisky isn’t a major problem for oral health. But drinking too much, or too often, can be.
Alcohol is a depressant — it slows down your body’s physiological processes.
One of the functions it slows is saliva production. It also causes dehydration, which further reduces saliva production. That’s why most people begin to experience dry mouth after a few alcoholic beverages.
But saliva is necessary for oral health. It helps to wash acids and germs off the teeth, gums and tongue. It breaks down food bits stuck in between teeth. It keeps soft, delicate tissues in the mouth moist and healthy. Low saliva production leaves your mouth vulnerable. That’s why many alcoholics also develop dental decay and gum disease.
5. You eat a lot of sticky foods.
Guess what sticky foods do? That’s right. They stick to your teeth and in the spaces between your teeth. And longer they stick there, the more likely they are to serve as little feasting spots for harmful bacteria.
After you eat a piece of sticky candy (caramels, for example) or chewy foods (breads, especially), go brush your teeth and floss.
6. You’re not chewing sugarless gum between meals.
Chewing sugarless gum is a good way to scoop up any sticky food particles your toothbrush may have missed. It also stimulates saliva production, which keeps soft oral tissues moist and helps to deliver needed calcium and phosphate to your teeth.
Just make sure it’s sugarless. Chewing sugary bubble gum or fruit gum is self-defeating, from an oral health standpoint.
7. You love to crunch hard candies or ice cubes.
In addition to being intensely irritating to some of the people around you, crunching on hard candies or ice puts you at risk of cracking a tooth. Don’t risk it.
If you enjoy hard candies, suck on them and brush afterwards. Suck on ice cubes; don’t chow down on them. Be kind to your teeth and don’t subject them to undue mechanical stress or unnecessary wear. That’s good, common sense advice for good oral health.