Any health professional will tell you that eating right is important. A healthy fat, low-sugar diet filled with fruits and vegetables, beans, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains is recommended for optimal overall functioning and health. But what about your teeth? Which foods are best for a healthy mouth? Not surprisingly, the same rules apply.
In general, foods that are good for the rest of your body are also good for your mouth. In recent years, however, numerous studies have been done that identify the specific effects of individual nutrients on oral health. In fact, the type of foods we eat impacts the ecosystem of 600 species of bacteria in the mouth. Alkaline foods as opposed to acidifying foods create a more favorable environment for the good bacteria to thrive. As you might expect, examples of alkalinizing foods are the green leafy vegetables and fruits, and the acidifying foods that can be a problem are proteins like fish and meat. Clearly, it’s balancing act, and by eating correctly we can keep ourselves in a healthy bacterial balance. (Find out how your mouth can give you a heads-up on your health.)
One of the most significant issues in dentistry today is the prevalence of periodontal disease among patients. Swollen, tender, or bleeding gums characterize periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory condition largely caused by the bacteria found in the dental plaque. It is now widely known that periodontal disease is linked to several systemic health concerns, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. New evidence suggests that eating right doesn’t only promote overall oral health, but help combat periodontal disease as well.
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2012 entitled indicated that low levels of micronutrients deficits in geriatric patients was linked to poor immune function. Micronutrients are vitamins or minerals, our body requires in small amounts, like calcium, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, B, and D that our body requires in small amounts to function properly. The study showed that in geriatric patients, an improved diet and increased micronutrient uptake was accompanied by increased immunity, demonstrating the importance of nutrition in warding off infections. (Get more info on immunity boosters.)
Oral health, like overall health, depends heavily on the immune system. Therefore, micronutrients that strengthen the immune system are also beneficial in promoting good oral health and fighting infection. Increased vitamin C intake, has been shown to help prevent bleeding gums and stop the progression of gum disease. Adding foods rich in vitamin C like bell peppers, kiwis, berries, broccoli, and citrus fruit to your diet is recommended. Along with proper oral care), this is a great way to promote healthy gums.
Extensive studies have also been done on the effects of vitamin D and calcium supplements on the mouth. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research in June 2015, both of these micronutrients seem to help with gum health and are recommended as supplements in addition to periodontal therapy. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and can also help fight inflammation, while calcium strengthens teeth and the bones of the mouth.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another key nutrient in oral health. Some studies have shown that omega-3s can have anti-inflammatory effects that may also be beneficial in treating periodontal disease. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like flaxseed, salmon, soybeans, and oysters are a must for any health-conscious diet.
In addition to eating right, probiotics are starting to gain traction as another way to promote oral health. According to the World Health Organization, probiotic therapy is “the use of live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health beneﬁt on the host.” Since periodontal disease is primarily caused by the imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the mouth, probiotic therapy might help restore balance by repopulating the area with beneficial bacteria. Certain strains of bacteria, such as Streptococcus salivarius, have been shown to inhibit periodontal pathogens in the mouth. While well-studied probiotics aren’t yet available for oral health, this might one be the best way to address this disease.
On the flip side, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates promotes inflammation, which can be detrimental to your mouth. Examples of foods containing highly processed carbohydrates are those high in sugar, flour, and hydrogenated oils, or any processed foods. Remember, as a rule of thumb, anything that isn’t healthy for your body probably isn’t too good for your mouth either!