It seems like an obvious connection – the mouth is the first part of your digestive system that food and drink encounter so of course your diet would affect your oral hygiene. However, it’s useful to know exactly how and why so we can all make better choices about what we consume and take care of not just our oral health, but our overall health as well.
Sorrento Valley Perfect Smile reviews some important things to consider to keep your mouth and body happy and healthy.
From First Bite
We discussed in our last blog the importance of including dental health into your overall well-being and health. Nutrition plays a large role maintaining this healthy chain. With poor nutrition, the body does not take in enough nutrients to properly support its immune system. Reduced immunity leads to increased susceptibility to infections and illness, including a higher risk of periodontal disease.
As we mentioned above, your mouth is the first step in the digestion process. As soon as certain foods enter your mouth and you start physically breaking down the food with your teeth, the bacteria in your mouth go to work as well and produce a byproduct which can eventually lead to tooth decay.
Carbohydrates tend to be easiest foods to break down, and begin that first stage of digestion right in your mouth. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by the bacteria naturally occurring in your mouth. The byproduct of this consumption is acid, and if left to accumulate in your mouth with poor hygiene habits, this can lead to tooth decay and cavities. This acid can linger and attack your teeth for at least 20 minutes. The formation of decay is what dentists call demineralization and occurs when the pH in the mouth becomes acidic, dipping below 5.5 in the mouth. Normal pH is 7, or neutral. The acidic environment begins to leach the minerals from the enamel and dentin, which is why this process is called demineralization. This process is also the first step leading to cavities.
Liquids Linger, Too
Of course, foods high in refined sugars aren’t the only culprits in acid-producing bacteria. Sugary drinks have been the bane of doctors and dentists for years for their hidden calories and other health concerns. Sodas, coffee, alcohol, and sports drinks are all unfavorable options.
Sodas/Carbonated Drinks are condemned for the amount of sugar they contain and the increased risk of cavities associated with high sugar/acid levels. Additionally, even if you drink diet sodas or any other carbonated drink (sparkling waters included!), the carbonation can still wear away at tooth enamel. Even though the carbonic acid is much weaker than the acid produced by the sugar/bacteria byproduct, over time, it can produce unwanted effects.
Coffee is notorious not only for staining teeth, but its acidity can wear down tooth enamel as well. Additionally, the creamers and sugars added to coffees also encourage acid-producing bacteria to flourish in the mouth.
Alcohol: The entire gamut of alcoholic drinks aren’t great for your teeth, but again, sugary mixers or beer can do more damage to your teeth. Even if you drink straight liquor, the strength of the alcohol itself can wear on the enamel. Red wines can also stain your teeth over time.
Sports Drinks: Though sports drinks are marketed as electrolyte or nutrient replenishers during and after workouts, they have other effects as well, including tooth decay and enamel erosion. Despite sugar-free options, many of these drinks still contain citric acid, which contribute to the breakdown of the enamel, and in more serious instances, the erosion can go to the next layer, called dentin.
Plain water is the ideal choice for helping keep a clean and healthy mouth. However, we understand that people love their daily cup of coffee, or a glass of wine with dinner, and even enjoy an occasional soda as a treat. Just be aware of the dental health risks with continued and consistent exposure to these kinds of drinks. Our next section includes some tips on how to help keep your mouth fresh during the day.
Tips to Keeping a Clean Mouth Between Brushings
It’s rather impractical for most of us to brush after every meal or snack, and even ill-advised to do so immediately after consuming food or drink (besides water). This can cause further damage, since your saliva needs at least 30 minutes to rebuild its protective barrier around your teeth. Here are some other tips to helping your mouth stay clean throughout the day.
Keep a bottle of water handy to drink and swish around your mouth. A moist mouth and saliva help protect the hard and soft tissues in your mouth. Saliva also helps teeth regain minerals, called remineralization. Water can also help clear out your mouth from other drinks or foods that may be lingering on your teeth.
If you happen to be drinking an occasional soda, sports drink, or even cold coffee, use a straw to help avoid your teeth making contact with the drink.
Choose teeth-friendly foods to snack on, which include raw vegetables, plain yogurts, cheese, nuts, etc. Candies, dried fruits, and even chips for example, tend to stick to or in between teeth and promote tooth decay, making poor choices for snacking. When eating foods containing simple carbohydrates (crackers, cookies, chips, e.g.), try including them with other foods or a meal. In combining carbohydrates with proteins and other nutrients, some of the acidity can be neutralized and help prevent tooth decay.
Limiting snacking in between meals also helps, as your teeth are less exposed to acids. However, if you are a grazer, try not to snack on simple carbohydrates which cause those tooth-decaying acids.
It’s important to make regular visits to the dentist to ensure your dental health is on the right track. Explore our website to learn more about us and the services we provide, or reach out to our Sorrento Valley or Oceanside office to schedule your next appointment!