Smile! Are You Eating Healthy?
If you’re not eating right, you may be at risk for problems with your teeth and mouth. Bad eating habits can cause tooth decay and gum disease, according to the American Dental Association.6 Children’s teeth are at special risk because they are still developing.7
Here’s how foods cause tooth decay: When you eat, food comes in contact with germs that live in your mouth. When you don’t clean your teeth after eating, germs use sugar and starches found in many foods to make acids. These acids destroy the tooth’s hard surface, or enamel, by dissolving it. Over time, tooth decay occurs.1
Each time you eat something sugary or starchy, acids begin to bathe the teeth.1 This cavity-producing action continues for 20 minutes or more after the food is eaten.6 Foods that are gooey and sticky, such as toffee and dried fruit leather, are not easily washed away by saliva or drinks. They have even more potential to cause cavities.7, 8
Here are suggestions to help your teeth stay healthy:
Enjoy a balanced mix of foods from each of the food groups recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The recommended foods include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.5, 6
If you eat sugary or starchy foods, do so during a meal. When you eat a meal, your mouth releases more saliva, and this helps wash away food debris.6 When you eat sweets, brush your teeth afterward to get rid of the remaining food particles.8
Limit between-meal snacks. When you do snack, choose healthy foods such as cheese, fresh fruit, and raw vegetables.6 Healthy snacks help teeth stay cleaner. Also, try to eat the snack in one sitting rather than over a longer period. Remember, the two most important factors in tooth decay are how often you eat and how long the food remains on your teeth.8
Brush your teeth gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line. Use fluoride toothpaste. Brushing removes food debris and helps prevent tooth decay.1
Clean your teeth at least once a day with floss.1
Visit your dentist regularly for oral examinations and cleanings.1
If you give your infant a bottle as a pacifier, fill it with water only. Avoid juices, milk, and formula, except at a feeding.3, 4, 6 Letting your baby fall asleep with a bottle or during breast-feeding increases the risk for baby bottle tooth decay.2, 4
If you have questions about dental care, talk with your dentist. He or she can advise you about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy and prevent future problems.
1 “Tooth Decay.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/3031.aspx?currentTab=1 Accessed 2010.
2 “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Early Childhood Tooth Decay).” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/3034.aspx Accessed 2010.
3 “Pediatric Oral Health Information for Parents: Frequently Asked Questions.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. www.aapd.org/pediatricinformation/faq.asp Accessed 2010.
4 “Dental Care for Your Baby.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. www.aapd.org/publications/brochures/babycare.asp. Accessed 2010.
5 “Finding Your Way to a Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , U.S. Department of Agriculture. www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2005/2005DGConsumerBrochure.pdf. Accessed 2010.
6 “Diet and Oral Health.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/2984.aspx Accessed 2010.
7 “Diet and Snacking.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. www.aapd.org/publications/brochures/snacking.asp. Accessed 2010.
8 “Snack Smart for Healthy Teeth.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, August 1, 2008. www.nidr.nih.gov/health/pubs/snaksmrt/main.htm Accessed 2010.