Nutritional Suggestions for Oral Health
Oral and systemic health are intertwined, and just as diseases related to poor nutrition can damage oral health, good dietary choices can improve it along with improvement of general health.
Nutritional standards such as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) define nutrient intakes required to prevent deficiency– and toxicity–associated diseases. These guidelines provide evidence–based targeted dietary messages to encourage adequate nutrient intakes and chronic disease prevention. DRIs are designed to identify nutrient intakes required to maintain health in people of a given age and sex.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 outline specific messages within 9 themes:
- Select nutrient-dense foods and beverages to achieve adequate nutrient intakes within energy requirements.
- Balance energy intake with activity for weight management.
- Engage in physical activity to reduce chronic disease risk and to manage weight.
- Select a sufficient amount and variety of fruits and vegetables; make half of your grain selections whole-grain; and consume a sufficient variety of dairy products to ensure adequate nutrient and fiber intake.
- Restrict saturated fats, total fats and trans-fatty acids, and select low-fat meat and dairy products to reduce the risk of developing obesity and obesity-related diseases.
- Select high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting added sugars to ensure adequate fiber intake and to reduce risk of tooth decay.
- Limit sodium intake, and consume potassium-rich foods to reduce hypertension.
- Consume alcoholic beverages responsibly to prevent alcohol-related illnesses and accidents.
- Practice safe food handling to reduce the risk of developing food-borne illnesses.
When it comes to foods and snacks that directly affect our teeth, sugar is the number one culprit. Cakes, candies, cookies and other sugary foods that adults and children snack on can cause tooth decay (and, because of high fat content, undesired weight gain as well). Foods made with refined corn sweeteners such as high fructose syrup and white table sugar should be eaten in moderation or not at all. Starchy snacks can also break down into sugars once they are in your mouth.
When you have a snack, think about these things:
- How many times a day do you eat a sugary snack?
- Does it have a chewy texture that sticks to your teeth?
- How long do you wait before brushing your teeth after such a snack?
Manage your snacks healthfully:
- Choose sugary foods less often
- Limit sweets between meals
- Eat a variety of low or non-fat foods
- Brush your teeth after snacks and meals, preferably using a fluoride toothpaste.
Most packaged foods now sold in America come with a nutrition information label stating the serving size and caloric content per serving, but few people bother to read it. Or if they do read it, they pay no attention and eat however much they want.
Here is a list to clip and keep within view to help you remember what a healthful portion is:
- Grains and Grain Products: 1 slice bread, ¼ bagel, ½ cup cooked rice and other grains, 2 ounces uncooked pasta (about 1 cup cooked spaghetti), ½ to 1¼ cups ready-to-eat cereal (depending on type), ½ cup cooked cereal.
- Dairy Products: 1 cup milk, 6 to 8 ounces yogurt, 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 1 ounce hard cheese, ½ cup ice cream.
- Meat and Meat Substitutes: 3 ounces cooked meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup canned tuna, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 egg, 1 cup cooked dry beans, 3 ounces tofu.
- Fruits and Vegetables: ½ cup cooked or cut-up fruits or vegetables, 1 cup salad greens, 1 medium potato, orange, apple or banana, ¾ cup fruit or vegetable juice.
- Condiments and Dressings: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, butter or margarine, 2 tablespoons salad dressing, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons whipped topping.
- Soft Drinks: Note this last item. Unless the drink is artificially sweetened, a reasonable portion is 8 ounces, not the 12 ounces found in most canned drinks or the 24 ounces in a typical McDonald’s serving.
Calcium is a mineral that helps make teeth and bones stronger by being absorbed and deposited in different parts of our body, from the earliest stages of growth onward. Calcium is actually being absorbed before our baby teeth and adult teeth have erupted. Calcium also makes gums healthier and may help prevent gum disease later in life, when our bones and teeth tend to soften and weaken.
Fluoride makes teeth stronger and more resistant to decay. During childhood it is typically absorbed internally from fluoridated drinking water or fluoride tablets. Fluoride toothpaste can continue to strengthen teeth all through life.
To sum up: always make sure you have a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Use dairy products in moderation, and try to eat low or non-fat products.