Nutrition can play a big part in dental and oral health. Tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancers are all affected by what you eat, and how you eat. Not only does oral health affect our mouth, but we know that it also affects other parts of our body and can contribute to other diseases. This makes nutrition for our oral health of utmost importance.
So, what can we do to assist our oral health?
- Chew your food
By chewing, our salivary glands are stimulated to produce more saliva. This helps to break down sugars and food acids, which can lead to tooth decay. If you eat too many soft foods or drink your food too often (in smoothies or juices), you may not produce enough saliva to keep your mouth healthy. Chewing as a young child can help to develop facial structure.
- Eat your food in one sitting
By having a break in between meals and snacks, it allows time for our saliva to break down the sugars and food acids, which can lead to tooth decay. If we are continually grazing, the saliva is not given the opportunity to do it’s job.
- Limit added sugar and processed foods
Sugar feeds the detrimental bacteria in your mouth, which can lead to the production of acids that break down enamel, leading to tooth decay. Processed foods often have high quantities of sugar or contain high amounts of refined carbohydrates. The bacteria in the mouth quickly break down the sugars found in refined carbohydrates and produce those acids that break down tooth enamel.
Natural sugars found in fruit and dairy products have not been linked to tooth decay. This is due to those foods containing other nutrients and fibre which stimulate salvia production to protect the teeth.
- Choose water as your drink
Water does not contain sugar or acid, so won’t contribute to tooth decay. Tap water also contains fluoride. Since the introduction of fluoride to our tap water, the instance of tooth decay has reduced dramatically. The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) found that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 26% to 44% in children and adolescents, and by 27% in adults. Recent Australian research states that access to fluoridated water from an early age is associated with less tooth decay in adults. (1)
- Don’t smoke tobacco or vape
Research has shown that if you smoke tobacco or vape, your risk of the following increases:
- Oral cancer
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth loss
- Tooth decay
- Poor healing after gum or mouth surgery and tooth removal
- Whitening of the soft tissue in the mouth (smoker’s keratosis)
- Decreased taste sensations
- Bad taste in the mouth and bad breath (halitosis). (2)
What specific nutrients are essential for oral health? (3,4,5,6)
|Nutrient||Benefits for oral health||Food sources|
|Protein||Tooth structure, mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function||Beef, cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, kangaroo, lamb, legumes, nuts and seeds, pork, protein powders, tofu, turkey|
|Carbohydrates||Insufficient intake can lead to plaque build-up, tooth decay and periodontal disease and organ development||Barley, basmati and brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, oats, quinoa, whole-wheat bread and rolls, whole-wheat pasta|
|Omega-3 Fats||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function, begins and regulates the body’s response to inflammation||Fish, fish oils, flax seed oil, oils (especially hemp, walnut, soybean, etc), walnuts|
|Calcium||Tooth structure, may enhance enamel remineralisation||Almonds, anchovy, Brazil nuts, broccoli, cabbage, crab meat, dairy products, duck meat, egg yolks, fish paste, green leafy vegetables, prawns, salmon, sardines, shellfish, snapper, soy products, spinach, sunflower seeds, tahini|
|Phosphorous||Tooth structure||Banana, berries, cashews, chicken, dairy products, dried fruit, eggs, fish, garlic, grapes, peas, legumes, mushrooms, red meat, sesame seeds / tahini, shellfish, soy products, stone fruit, sunflower seeds, sweet corn|
|Vitamin D||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function, may enhance enamel remineralisation||Calamari, cheese, cod liver oil, egg yolk, milk, sprouted seeds|
|Folate||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function, low levels are associated with periodontal disease||Barley, beans, cabbage, cocoa powder, eggs, flour, green leafy vegetables, hazelnuts, lentils, liver, peanuts, sesame seeds, soy, spinach, wheat bran, wheat germ|
|Zinc||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function||Almonds, capsicum, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hard yellow cheeses, chicken, duck, eggs, liver, mushrooms, oysters, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, red meat, sesame seeds, spinach, sunflower seeds, tahini, turkey, walnuts, whole grains|
|Iron||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function||Almonds, apricots, avocado, cashews, cocoa powder, eggs, hazelnuts, liver, veal, miso, mussels, oysters, red meats, sesame seeds, silverbeet, spinach, sunflower seeds, tahini, tofu,|
|Vitamin A||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function. Getting too much from supplements may result in gum problems.||Apricots, butter, carrots, cod liver oil, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, liver, mangoes, peaches, pumpkin, rockmelon, sweet potato, tomatoes|
|Vitamin C||Supporting collagen function, maintaining healthy periodontal ligaments, mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function||Banana, berries, broccoli, Brussel sprots, cabbage, cauliflower, citrus fruits, capsicums, guava, papaya, rockmelon, snowpeas, strawberries, sweet potato|
|B Vitamins||Cell turnover in the lining of the mouth||Almonds, avocado, bananas, beef, carrots, chickpeas, dark leafy green vegetables, eggs, enriched breads and cereals, liver, lentils, milk, oranges, nutritional yeast, salmon, sweet potato, wholegrains|
|Antioxidants||Mucous lining of the mouth and digestive system, development of connective tissue, immune function||Artichokes, beans, beetroot, blueberries, dark chocolate, kale, orange vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato), pecans, purple or red grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, spinach, strawberries|
|Probiotics||Balance of oral microbiome, production of saliva||Fermented foods (kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt)|
Nutrition plays a big part in oral health. By making some changes to what and how we eat, as well as making sure we get a wide variety of nutrients, we can help to keep our pearly whites (and all the other bits around them!) in top condition.
- NHMRC, 2017, ‘NHMRC Public Statement 2017: Water Flouridation and Human Health in Australia’, Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, viewed on 28 July, 2021, file:///C:/Users/hayley.THEAMC/Downloads/fluoridation-public-statement.pdf
- Better Health Channel, 2021, ‘Effects of smoking and vaping on oral health’, Victoria State Government Department of Health, viewed on 28 July 2021, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-and-oral-health
- Scardina G & Messina P, 2012, ‘Good Oral Health and Diet’, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, viewed on 28 July 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3272860/
- Andrews R, ‘The Dental Diet: 10 nutrition strategies for healthy teeth’, Precision Nutrition, viewed on 28 July 2021, https://www.precisionnutrition.com/nutrition-teeth-dental-health
- Wills T, ‘A Dental Hygienist Explains How Nutrition Professionals Can Support Their Clients’ Oral Health’, That Clean Life, viewed on 28 July 2021, https://blog.thatcleanlife.com/nutrition-planning-for-holistic-oral-health/
- Fletcher J, 2019, ‘A guide to antioxidant foods’, Medical News today, viewed on 5 August 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325873