Tooth decay doesn't appear out of nowhere. It begins with bacteria, which produce acid that softens and erodes tooth enamel. Without adequate enamel protection, cavities can develop.
So, one of our prevention goals is to decrease populations of disease-causing bacteria. One way is to deprive them of carbohydrates, a prime food source, most notably refined sugar. That's why for decades dentists have instructed patients to limit their intake of sugar, especially between meal snacks.
Ironically, we're now consuming more rather than less sugar from a generation ago. The higher consumption impacts more than dental health — it's believed to be a contributing factor in many health problems, especially in children. Thirty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a child in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes: today, there are over 50,000 documented juvenile cases.
Cutting back isn't easy. For one thing, we're hard-wired for sweet-tasting foods. Our ancestors trusted such foods when there was limited food safety knowledge. Most of us today still have our "sweet tooth."
There's also another factor: the processed food industry. When food researchers concluded fats were a health hazard the government changed dietary guidelines. Food processors faced a problem because they used fats as a flavor enhancer. To restore flavor they began adding small amounts of sugar to foods like lunch meat, bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter. Today, three-quarters of the 600,000 available processed food items contain some form of added sugar.
Although difficult given your available supermarket choices, limiting your sugar intake to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day will reduce your risk for dental and some general diseases. There are things you can do: replace processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables; read food labels for sugar content to make better purchasing decisions; drink water for hydration rather than soda (which can contain two-thirds of your daily recommended sugar allowance), sports drinks or juices; and exercise regularly.
Keeping your sugar consumption under control will help you reduce the risk of tooth decay. You'll be helping your overall health too.
If you would like more information on the effect of sugar on 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 “The Bitter Truth about Sugar.”
Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, the best thing you can do for your kids' dental health is to see that they're eating a nutritious diet. And not just at mealtime—healthy snacking also promotes healthy teeth and gums.
Healthy snack foods are quite similar to their counterparts at mealtime: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. At the same time, you should avoid providing processed snacks high in sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and calories.
Managing snack choices at home is usually a simple matter of discipline and follow-through. When they're at school, however, it's a bit trickier as they may encounter snacks sold on school grounds or offered by fellow students that don't meet your definition of a healthy food. Public schools follow nutrition guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on snacks sold on school grounds, but many dentists don't believe the standard goes far enough to protect dental health.
So, what can you do to combat these less healthy snack choices your kids may encounter at school? For one thing, you can work with your child's school officials to exceed the USDA guidelines or turn off snack vending machines right before lunch to lessen kids' temptation to skip lunch.
You can also interact with your children to better manage their schooltime snacking. But rather than issue blanket commands about what they should snack on at school, help them instead understand the difference between nutritional foods and less nutritional ones, and why it's important to choose healthy snacks for their life and health.
Finally, don't send them to school empty-handed—pack along nutritious snacks so that they won't seek out vending machines or their classmates to satisfy the munchies. You can supercharge your efforts with a little creativity (like a dash of cinnamon in a bag of unbuttered popcorn) that make your snacks fun and more enticing than other school ground options.
It's not always easy to keep your kids from unhealthy snack choices. But with a little commitment, interaction and ingenuity, you can help steer them toward snacks that are tooth-friendly.
If you would like more information on boosting your child's 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 “Snacking at School: How to Protect Your Child's Teeth and Promote Good Nutrition.”
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.”