Healthy Eating for Healthy Teeth

Doctor Scarpitti

Recently, at one of my weekly gym sessions, I over heard a client ask a personal trainer for some nutritional advice. Typically I try to avoid eavesdropping on conversations while at the gym, but this time I thought I could gain some insight as to what the new “food for thought” on healthy eating consists of. The response by the trainer was pretty similar to what I was taught as an undergrad. The take-home message was to limit high fat foods, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and drink plenty of water while consuming smaller, more frequent meals. This is well known in personal training and nutrition to help reduce what are known as post meal time insulin spikes; aka sugar spikes. In short, this aims to help maintain steady blood sugar levels throughout the day to avoid over-eating at meal times and reduce caloric intake. Many nutritionists advocate for this diet and I also agree with the science behind the recommendation. However, an issue arises from a dental perspective when people don’t know exactly what eating more frequently means, nor the type of foods to eat.

Unfortunately, when some one is told to eat smaller more frequent meals per day to help lose weight, most people tend to think they should “snack” on healthy foods. The goal should be to aim at consuming 3-6 small well balanced meals at planned times, instead of grazing or snacking throughout the day. We know that with higher frequency of food intake, particularly sugary foods, there is an increased risk for dental decay. Although one’s intentions to eat more frequently may be good, a lot of time the type of food choices recommended can be harmful to the enamel of teeth.

People are generally aware that consuming a diet high in sugar will cause dental decay. To most, high sugar foods consist of candies, sodas, and foods containing high fructose corn syrup. But did you know that foods such as bananas, dried fruits such as cranberries, raisins or strawberries can be just as detrimental to the tooth surface as those other processed foods? The reason is due to the ability of these foods to adhere or stick to the tooth surface and provide a longer exposure time to the oral cavity which provides a constant food source for the bacteria that cause cavities. Combine this with snacking on such foods over longer periods of time and we have a common recipe for dental decay.

Another consideration is the acidity of foods. Food choices such as low sugar orange juice or other fruit juices seem to be a sensible healthy food option. What most people don’t realize is that these juices are so acidic that they approach the acidity level of battery acid. That acid attack weakens the enamel on the surface of the teeth causing the teeth to be even more vulnerable to bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay. Combine this with the natural fructose and added sugar, which provide a food source for the bacteria, and we have an higher possibility for cavity development.

So as a dentist, what do I recommend to balance a healthy diet and prevent dental decay? First and foremost avoid highly acidic, processed, and sugary foods such as fruit juices, sodas, and even diet sodas (which are still highly acidic). If these foods must be eaten, only consume them at meal times and never snack or sip on them over long periods of time. Also, consider washing these foods down with more basic foods such as water, milk or other dairy products that are low in sugar content. Avoid snacking on foods which adhere to the tooth surface like bananas or dried fruits. Fresh fruits and veggies are high in fiber and water content and require longer chewing time which will help clean off the surface of the teeth. This also helps to stimulate salivary flow which is crucial to maintain a more neutral environment in the mouth. Calcium and Phosphorous rich foods such as meats, poultry, fish and eggs will also help to strengthen the tooth surface. Perhaps the most important things to remember are to brush at least twice daily for at least two minutes with fluoridated tooth paste, floss daily to help maintain healthy gum tissue, and drink plenty of water containing fluoride.

More information on what foods are tooth friendly and what foods are not can be found at www.MouthHealthy.org.

-Dr. S.