Few of us are taught much of anything about the importance of maintaining our oral health, beyond the vague idea that we should brush and floss. Many are not aware that brushing needs to be done in a very careful way for two minutes after breakfast or lunch and then after dinner. Flossing needs to be thoroughly done at the end of the day (and for those with dental problems, tiny dental picks may be recommended to remove food between some teeth or even use of a water pick).
But even if you are really great at brushing and flossing, you may not be aware of how diet can affect your oral health. You already know that eating too many sugary snacks is something dentists frown on because they can stick to the teeth and be hard to clean off. Sometimes we might have a late snack and think it won’t matter because we’ll brush the next morning.
But dentists know that being prone to periodontal disease (infection of the gums and jawbone) can be due to our overall diets. Too many people know they could improve their nutrition, but in the moment those syrup-covered pancakes or chocolate bars are just irresistible. How much harm could one little violation hurt, you think.
You may have heard that low-carbohydrate diets are all the rage, but enthusiasts are not always clear that there are big differences between carbs. In actuality, fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans are very good for you (unless you have a genuine allergy, of course). They provide vital vitamins and minerals, proteins, and other nutrients in their natural form. Raw and cooked vegetables also have fiber, which increases saliva production that prevents cavities. The carbs in whole foods are called complex carbohydrates and they digest slowly and keep you feeling full.
But when whole wheat is refined into white flour or pasta and brown rice is turned into white rice, these change into simple carbs, a type of sugar. When eaten, they give you a “sugar high” and then a crash, potentially leading to diabetes type 2 or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, which saps your energy). The same happens whether you eat cookies or drink sugary sodas.
These are the sugars that stick to your teeth and gums and lead to periodontal disease, especially if you are not really committed to brushing and flossing right after consuming them. If you feel a sugar crazing, look for snacks sweetened with stevia, mock fruit, or best of all, xylitol, which actually improves the health of your mouth.
A balanced diet will also include lean meat, fish, or a vegetarian protein, including dairy products or alternatives that supply calcium, which is an important part of healthy tooth and bone formation.
Good oral health lowers your risk for everything from heart disease to cancer.