Brush. Floss. See your dentist. We all know the basics of keeping our mouths healthy, but if you’re hitting the high points and still having trouble staying out of the dental chair, there could be a missing link in your overall dental health plan: nutrition. We all know that eating our fruits and veggies and cutting down on the sugar is good for our overall health, but, let’s face it, we don’t always do exactly what we know we should. If you are one of those people who could use a little brush-up (no pun intended) on the nutrition basics and run down on the nutritional keys to keeping your mouth fresh, healthy and clean, some of these tips might be for you.
The Vitamin Link
Robert Dorsky, DMD, author of a nutritional study in General Dentistry, a peer-reviewed journal, said that, when there is a discrepancy between what your body needs and what your body gets, nutritional deficiencies result. The mouth is one of the most sensitive areas of the body and, as a result, shows signs of nutritional gaps more quickly than nearly any other area. It’s hard to imagine that, in the United States, anyone could be nutritionally deficient, but, as we know, there is a big difference between being well-fed and being healthy. If you’re trying to keep your mouth in tip-top shape, here are some key vitamins to make sure you’re getting:
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is an important antioxidant that protects the body and is linked to healthy formation of teeth. Carrots, liver and spinach are all great food sources of the vitamin.
Vitamin D: We all grew up hearing that calcium is essential for strong bones, but, without Vitamin D to help it absorb, the calcium is of little use to our bodies — or teeth. The best way to get Vitamin D is to spend a few, sunscreen-free minutes a day in the sun.
Calcium: Calcium is the chief supportive component of teeth and bones, so, obviously, if you don’t have enough calcium, your teeth are going to suffer. Milk is a good source of calcium, but if you’re not a dairy person, getting calcium from soy, collards, spinach, and turnip greens is also a good option. If you’re still worried about your overall, daily calcium intake, supplements (with your health care professional’s okay) might be a good choice. NOW makes a great Calcium supplement fortified with Vitamin D, Magnesium and Zinc for maximum absorption. It’s available at Amazon.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is another crucial antioxidant that is a key component in good oral health. Not only is Vitamin C required for the production of collagen, which, in turn, gives gum tissue its integrity, it also is required for the support of our immune system. Since our mouths are constantly barraged by bacteria and viruses, Vitamin C is a key component in the health of the mouth and the entire body.
If you’re looking for an “insurance policy” to support your healthy food choices, a multi-vitamin might not be a bad idea. Vitamins made from whole food sources are a great choice and can help ensure that your body is getting the nutrition it needs. A comprehensive multi-vitamin that is great for most people is Life’s Fortune. It is available from Amazon and many consumers swear it gives them more energy. Another great whole food, multi-vitamin choice for women is New Chapter Organics Every Woman, which is made with organic ingredients. New Chapter also makes a great Prenatal Vitamin, available from Amazon.
Vegetarians and Oral Health
While attention to oral health is crucial for everyone, vegetarians might be especially at risk for nutritional deficiencies. The Academy of General Dentistry acknowledges that adult vegetarians tend to be more aware of their nutritional needs than non-vegetarian adults, but, regardless, vegetarians have to be extremely careful that they are getting the vitamins they need to maintain proper oral health. According to Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Ludwig Leibsohn, DDS, “An adult on a vegetarian diet for a prolonged period can be at increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease from a lack of vitamin D and calcium.”
In addition, Vitamins B12 and B2, also known as Riboflavin, are difficult for vegetarians to obtain since they come from liver, pork, fish, red meat and chicken. A lack of these essential vitamins can lead to mouth sores. Almonds, spinach and pasta are other, non-animal sources of B2, while dairy products are good sources of B12.
For vegans and vegetarians who avoid dairy, B-vitamin supplements can be important for maintaining oral health. New Chapter Organics Coenzyme B Food Complex is helpful for those trying to get more B vitamins and is said to nourish metabolic function and calm frazzled nerves. Vegetarian or not, we might all be able to benefit from a little of that! It is available from Amazon.
Obesity and Gum Disease
The Centers for Disease Control report that more than two-thirds of adults over age 20 in the United States are overweight or obese. The weight crisis in the United States has reached epic proportions and, with the rise of our weight, not only does our health care cost increase but also our dental cost. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University found, in a 2003 study, that the prevalence of periodontal disease in obese individuals aged 18-34 was 76% higher than individuals in that group of normal weight. This is extremely significant because periodontal disease, a chronic bacterial infection that causes teeth to separate from gums and become loose or fall out, is generally considered a disease that strikes older people. Not surprisingly, periodontists recommend consuming the recommended daily allowance for both vitamin C and Calcium to help counteract this problem.
Foods to Avoid
No matter what your weight, the Academy of General Dentistry has recommendations about foods that should be avoided to promote optimal dental health:
- Sticky, chewy foods: Raisins, granola bars, jelly beans, caramel, honey and syrup stick to teeth and make it difficult to wash the sugar away.
- Sugary snacks: Cookies, cakes or other desserts contain a high amount of sugar, which can cause tooth decay.
- Gum and candy: When chewing gum and eating candy, the sugar coats teeth, which can lead to cavities.
- Carbonated soft drinks: Regular and diet sodas contain phosphorous and carbonation, which wears away the enamel on teeth.
Sticking to grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and meats is recommended for preserving both dental and overall health. And remember, when in doubt, ask your dentist!