Why is a healthy diet important for my oral health?
Every time you eat or drink anything sugary, your teeth are under acid attack for up to two hours. This is because the bacteria in your mouth will breakdown these sugars and produce harmful acids. So it is important to have sugary foods or drinks just at mealtimes, reducing the number of times your mouth is at risk. If you have sugar too many times during the day, the tooth enamel may break down, forming a hole or 'cavity', leading to fillings or even extractions.
Acidic foods and drinks can be just as harmful. The acid ‘erodes' or dissolves the enamel, exposing the dentine underneath. This can make your teeth sensitive and unsightly. A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to prevent gum disease. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and cause bad breath.
What foods can cause tooth decay?
All sugars can cause decay. Sugar can come in many forms. Usually ingredients ending in ‘ose' are sugars, for example: sucrose, fructose and glucose are just three types. These sugars can all damage your teeth. Many processed foods have sugar in them, and the higher up it appears in the list of ingredients, the more sugar there is in the product. Always read the list of ingredients on the labels when you are food shopping.
When you are reading the labels remember that 'no added sugar' does not necessarily mean that the product is sugar free. It simply means that no extra sugar has been added. These products may contain sugars such as those listed above, or the sugars may be listed as 'carbohydrates'. Ask your dentist if you are not sure.
Can I eat snacks?
It is better for your teeth and general health if you eat 3 meals a day instead of having 7 to 10 snacks. If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain fructose and acids, which can decay & erode your teeth. Try not to have a lot of dried fruit as it is also high in sugar and can stick to your teeth.
If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline such as cheese afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as: cheese, raw vegetables or nuts.
What should I eat & drink?
The main point to remember is that it is not the amount of sugar you eat or drink, but how often you do it. Sweet foods are allowed, but it is important just to have them at mealtimes. To help reduce tooth decay, cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and try to have sugar-free varieties. Confectionery and chewing gum containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol may help to reduce tooth decay.
Sugary foods can also cause a range of health problems including heart disease and being overweight. Still water and milk are good choices. It is better for your teeth if you drink fruit juices just at meal times. Some soft drinks contain sweeteners, which are not suitable for young children - ask your dentist if you are not sure. Fizzy drinks can increase the risk of dental problems. The sugar can cause decay and the acid in both normal and diet drinks can dissolve the enamel on the teeth. The risk is higher when you have these drinks between meals.
Should I brush my teeth after every meal?
It is important that you brush last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
Eating and drinking foods containing sugar and acids naturally weakens the enamel on your teeth. Brushing straight afterwards can cause tiny particles of enamel to be brushed away. It is best not to brush your teeth until at least one hour after eating.
It is especially important to brush before bed, spitting out the toothpaste, and ideally not rinsing your mouth with water, this keeps a higher concentration of fluoride in your mouth whilst you are sleeping. This is important because the flow of saliva, which is the mouth's own cleaning system, slows down during the night and this leaves the mouth more at risk from decay.
Does chewing gum help?
Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, which helps to cancel out the acid in your mouth after eating or drinking. It has been proven that using sugar-free chewing gum after meals can prevent tooth decay. However, it is important to use only sugar-free gum, as ordinary chewing gum contains sugar and therefore may damage your teeth.
Can food and drink cause erosion?
Acidic food and drinks can cause erosion - the gradual dissolving of the tooth enamel. Listed below are the 'pH values' of some food and drinks. The lower the pH number, the more acidic the product. Anything with a pH value lower than 5.5 may cause erosion. 'Alkalis' have a high pH number and cancel out the acid effects of sugars. pH 7 is the middle figure between acid and alkali.
- mineral water (still) pH 7.6
- milk pH 6.9
- cheddar cheese pH 5.9
- lager pH 4.4
- orange juice pH 3.8
- grapefruit pH 3.3
- pickles pH 3.2
- cola pH 2.5
- red wine pH 2.5
- vinegar pH 2.0