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Eating Right Helps You Head to Toe

The health of your mouth and your overall well-being may be more closely linked than you realize. Some of the same lifestyle choices that can keep your body in tip-top shape also help keep your teeth and gums healthy. For example, limiting sweets is good for both your oral and general health.

Bacteria need a steady supply of carbohydrates, especially sugary foods. A large and continuous source of sugar allows the mouth's bacterial population to multiply and produce enough acid to dissolve tooth enamel faster than the body can rebuild it. The rise in dental cavities tracks closely with the widespread availability of inexpensive refined sugar beginning in the 18th century.

Both how much sugar you eat and when you eat it can affect your risk for cavities. Foods such as these increase your chances of getting cavities:

  • Foods with sugar content of more than 15 to 20 percent.

  • Sticky sweets such as honey, molasses, chewy candy, or raisins. These stay on the teeth longer than other sugars.

  • Sweets eaten alone. The saliva you secrete when you eat an entire meal may rinse away sugars.

  • Sweets eaten before bedtime. Unless you brush afterward, the sugar will remain undisturbed on the teeth until the next morning.

  • Starch and sugar combinations. Cookies, cakes, and other sweet baked goods are likely to cause decay.

Making positive food choices can be just as important as avoiding damaging items. Some foods, such as aged cheese and peanuts, actually lower the likelihood of decay by cutting the acidity of your saliva. Dairy products are high in natural sugar (in the form of lactose), but they also contain a protein that prevents bacteria from sticking to your teeth. In addition, dairy products are a natural source of calcium, an important nutrient for maintaining the strength of your teeth and bones. Insufficient calcium intake also contributes to periodontal disease.

Other nutrients you need for optimum oral health include:

  • Vitamin D for building and maintaining bone

  • Folate, ascorbic acid, iron, and zinc to replenish the lining of the gums, especially in the pockets next to the teeth

  • Protein and vitamins A and C to produce the connective tissue that supports the teeth


Source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright © by Harvard University. All rights reserved.

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