It has become apparent that the food we eat has a significant impact on our health. Consuming the correct amounts of calories and nutrients is necessary, but it also important to get them from the right sources. A healthy diet leads to health, while an unhealthy diet leads to disease and feeling poorly. It may seem obvious, but this is also true for our mouths. What we eat plays an important role in keeping our teeth and gums healthy. Even if we have excellent oral hygiene and get regular dental cleanings and checkups, a poor diet can still lead to an unhealthy mouth.
Gingivitis, cavities, and even canker sores can be caused and worsened by certain foods. Luckily, other foods can help prevent or even heal and strengthen our mouths and teeth. As we approach the holidays with all the treats and delicious foods available, it is helpful to remember that some foods are great for our mouths while others can cause cavities and gum disease.
Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease, which is caused by a build-up of plaque and an accumulation of bacteria that are harmful to your mouth. In this stage, the gums are usually red and swollen and may bleed easily. Since no permanent damage has been caused, gingivitis can be treated with regular cleanings and good oral hygiene. Avoiding certain foods and consuming more beneficial foods will help you beat gingivitis even faster.
It is important to heal gingivitis because, if left untreated, it leads to periodontitis which is the advanced form of gum disease. Periodontitis is seen when the gums become infected, and it can result in the loss of teeth and gum tissue. Additionally, when the harmful bacteria are plentiful enough to cause gum disease they can also cause or worsen other serious health problems, such as infective endocarditis, stroke, respiratory infections, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, some types of cancer, infertility, and pregnancy complications.
Foods That Harm Your Mouth
Sugars and simple carbohydrates (which convert into sugars almost immediately in your mouth) feed the harmful bacteria and increase inflammation, so it is important to avoid these foods. Very few people are going to completely eliminate every food with simple sugars and carbohydrates though, so it is helpful to know which foods and drinks are more harmful than others. It would be nearly impossible to create a list of every food to avoid, but here is a general guideline to help you decide what to eat.
Carbonated soft drinks, candy, and foods made with white flour should be avoided. Although juice, sports drinks, and dried fruit can provide nutrients that help your body in other ways, their high sugar content makes them bad for your teeth and gums.
Sugar: Avoid the types of sweets that stick to your teeth. Caramels, hard candies, licorice, and even cough drops or gum with sugar will help the bacteria to thrive. It is better to eat dark chocolate or ice cream when you are indulging in sweets.
Carbohydrates: All carbs are not harmful to your body and mouth. Whole foods, such as potatoes, beans, fruits, and vegetables contain a lot of carbohydrates but are far better for you than processed foods that contain simple carbs, like bread or white rice. When eating processed carbs, try to eat foods made with whole grains, rather than white flour. While you are looking at the ingredient list, notice whether the food has added sugar. Many starchy foods also have some type of sugar added, making them even worse for your teeth.
Helpful hint: Anytime you eat foods high in sugar or carbohydrates, be sure to rinse your mouth with water or brush when you are finished eating. That will help clean the food/raw materials for making acids away, preventing it from feeding the bacteria.
Foods That Heal Gingivitis
A study published in 2016 showed that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins C and D, while low in carbohydrates, trans fatty acids, and Omega-6 fatty acids “significantly reduced periodontal inflammation in humans” (1). Fruits and vegetables were the only allowed sources of carbohydrates, while fructose, disaccharides, sweetened beverages and meals, flour containing foods, rice, and potatoes were restricted as much as possible. Interestingly, supplements were not relied upon to provide the nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins C and D were included by consuming foods or spending 15 minutes in the sun for vitamin D.
The people in the study who made the change only followed the diet for four weeks. In those four weeks, “all inflammatory parameters decreased in the experimental group to approximately half that of the baseline values.” That is a significant difference for only one month. Imagine how much healthier your gums could be if you always ate this way!
This study is not alone in displaying the importance of food in preventing or healing periodontal disease (PD). Other studies show that “Dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables, β-carotene, vitamin C, α-tocopherol, EPA, and DHA are associated with reduced PD” in non-smokers (2), “higher intake of antioxidants may mitigate periodontal disease” (3), and “increasing whole grain in the diet without increasing total energy intake may reduce periodontitis risk” (4).
Here are some excellent natural sources of the nutrients that are so important for healthy gums.
Omega-3 fatty acids: sea fish (cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines are the best sources), flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, grass-fed beef
Vitamin C: kiwis, bell pepper, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes, cauliflower, spinach. *Citrus fruits and tomatoes are also excellent sources of vitamin C, but they contain very high amounts of acids that are harmful to tooth enamel
Vitamin D: 15 minutes unprotected in the sun, avocado, fatty fish, whole milk, eggs, mushrooms
Antioxidants: green tea, beans, deeply colored fruits and vegetables such as berries, plums, spinach, kale, red cabbage, and artichokes
Fiber: vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
As you can see, the food we eat plays an important role in our dental health. Just as brushing and flossing are a choice we make every day, our decisions about the foods we consume also add up. Forgetting to floss or having a snack before bed every so often may not cause harm but doing that every day would quickly cause cavities and gum disease. In the same way, eating all the delicious, carb-filled Thanksgiving foods, enjoying a decadent dessert at Christmas, and indulging in a drink or two on New Year’s Eve shouldn’t cause lasting harm to a healthy mouth. However, a diet high in sugars and simple carbohydrates is almost guaranteed to bring you to the dentist to repair cavities and treat gum disease. So, as you enjoy this holiday season, don’t forget to love your mouth through the foods you eat!
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At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist. Ahwatukee, Phoenix
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1. Woelber, J.P., Bremer, K., Vach, K. et al. An oral health optimized diet can reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in humans - a randomized controlled pilot study. BMC Oral Health 17, 28 (2017) doi:10.1186/s12903-016-0257-1
2. David W Dodington, Peter C Fritz, Philip J Sullivan, Wendy E Ward, Higher Intakes of Fruits and Vegetables, β-Carotene, Vitamin C, α-Tocopherol, EPA, and DHA Are Positively Associated with Periodontal Healing after Nonsurgical Periodontal Therapy in Nonsmokers but Not in Smokers, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 145, Issue 11, November 2015, Pages 2512–2519, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.115.211524
3. Iwasaki, M., Moynihan, P., Manz, M., Taylor, G., Yoshihara, A., Muramatsu, K., . . . Miyazaki, H. (2013). Dietary antioxidants and periodontal disease in community-based older Japanese: A 2-year follow-up study. Public Health Nutrition, 16(2), 330-338. doi:10.1017/S1368980012002637
4. Anwar T Merchant, Waranuch Pitiphat, Mary Franz, Kaumudi J Joshipura, Whole-grain and fiber intakes and periodontitis risk in men, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 83, Issue 6, June 2006, Pages 1395–1400, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/83.6.1395