In the quest for the ideal diet, people often stress over one particular food group: carbohydrates. And for good reason—some carbohydrates have been linked to chronic inflammation, a contributing factor in many diseases. One such condition in particular, periodontal (gum) disease, could permanently damage your dental health.
But before you throw all the carbs out of your diet, let’s take a closer look at them. Not all carbs are the same or contribute to inflammation to the same degree.
Carbohydrates are organic compounds existing in living tissues. In foods, the most prevalent of these are sugars and starches that break down during digestion into the simple sugar glucose, which the cells in an organism use for energy.
But not all carb-based foods digest at the same rate, measured along a scale called the glycemic index. High glycemic foods like sugar, baked goods or potatoes digest quickly and can rapidly increase the glucose levels in the blood (blood sugar). This sudden glucose spike then triggers an insulin surge from the pancreas to restore the level to normal. This process in turn can cause inflammation.
On the other end of the glycemic index are complex or unrefined carbohydrates that digest much more slowly, and don’t quickly elevate blood sugar like simple carbs. In fact, nutritional studies consistently show carbohydrates in most vegetables, greens, beans or whole grains may actually decrease inflammation.
Inflammation is also a primary factor in gum disease, caused by a bacterial infection in the gums. Chronic inflammation damages the gums’ attachment with the teeth and can contribute to eventual tooth loss. And if your body already has an overactive inflammatory response due to your diet, you could be even more susceptible to gum disease.
A change in your diet in relation to carbs could help reduce this risk. Eat less sugar, white flour, rice and potatoes and more complex carbs like fresh vegetables and fruits. For even more protection include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (like certain fish and nuts) and less Omega 6 foods (fried food or pastries, or chips, for example). And don’t forget your antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Eating fewer simple carbs and more complex carbs will help reduce inflammation in the body. And that’s a good thing for your gums.
If you would like more information on how diet affects dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
Although preventable, the occurrences of tooth decay are all too common. Yet decay doesn’t appear out of the blue: certain mouth conditions set the disease in motion.
Here are a few signs of such conditions to watch for — they could be telling you you’re at higher risk for tooth decay.
Visible plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food accumulating on tooth surfaces and a prime haven for causing periodontal disease. If you actually see it — a crusty, yellowish film — that means there’s a large, unhealthy amount of it. It’s essential to remove it daily through diligent brushing and flossing and more thorough office cleanings at least twice a year.
Poor saliva flow. One of this bodily fluid’s functions is to neutralize mouth acid, usually thirty minutes to an hour after we eat. If saliva flow is inadequate, though, acid levels may remain high and endanger the enamel. “Dry mouth” can occur from a number of causes, including some medications and chemotherapy treatments. It’s important to alleviate the cause if possible by changing medications or stimulating saliva flow through other means.
Tooth shape and appliances. Largely determined by heredity, your teeth contain unique, tiny grooves known as pits and fissures that could harbor plaque. Certain appliances like retainers, braces or night guards can inhibit saliva flow and cause your teeth to retain more plaque. It’s important then to adjust your hygiene efforts to offset these anatomical or treatment factors.
Acid-producing conditions. Diseases like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or eating disorders can introduce stomach acid into the mouth that is highly erosive to tooth enamel. It’s imperative for you or a family member to control these conditions through medication, dietary changes, or — in the case of eating disorders — behavioral therapy.
Eating habits. Sugar and other carbohydrates are a ready food source for bacteria. Likewise, acidic foods and beverages (like coffee, tea, and sports or energy drinks) can cause high acid levels for too long. Cut back on eating and drinking these foods and beverages, especially as snacks, to reduce acid levels that could lead to decay.
If you would like more information on strategies to prevent tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
Sports and energy drinks — two different types of popular beverages. But though different they have one thing in common: they can both wreak havoc on your tooth enamel.
That's because each contains high concentrations of acid. And acid is tooth enamel's mortal enemy — prolonged exposure with it causes the minerals in enamel to soften and erode, a process called de-mineralization.
Demineralization becomes even more pronounced when the mouth's pH levels fall below 4.0 into the acidic range. A sampling of various brands of sports and energy drinks reveal mean pH levels below even that threshold. Energy drinks are especially harmful to enamel because the type of acid they contain is more concentrated.
So, what can you do to minimize this threat to your dental health? The optimal thing to do is avoid such beverages altogether, especially energy drinks. If you currently re-hydrate after hard work or exercise with sports drinks, consider switching to water, nature's hydrator.
If you do, however, continue to drink these beverages, then follow a few precautions to lessen the acidic levels in your mouth:
Wait until mealtimes. Saliva is your body's way of neutralizing acid in your mouth, but it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for it to fully buffer acid. If you're sipping between meals on acidic beverages, saliva can't keep up. So, wait until you eat or limit your sipping time on a drink.
Rinse with water. Since water's pH is neutral, swishing some in your mouth right after drinking a sports or energy drink will help reduce acidity.
Wait an hour to brush. Your enamel will begin demineralizing as soon as it encounters acid. If you brush right away you could be sloughing off miniscule amounts of softened minerals. By waiting an hour you give your saliva time to buffer and help re-mineralize the enamel.
Although popular, especially among teenagers and young adults, overindulgence in sports and energy drinks could damage your teeth and increase your risk for tooth decay. With a little moderation and common sense, you can keep your enamel strong and healthy.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports and energy drinks on dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Think Before you Drink.”