By Cheshire Que, RND, RN, RD
We often associate nutrition with diseases of the heart, our weight, blood sugar level, and all those common lifestyle-related illnesses. We do not pay much attention to how our nutrition status impacts oral health and vice versa. If your mouth is unhealthy, it will affect the way you eat as well as the type of food you can eat. Think gum problems, tooth loss, toothache, and all those horrible, painful dental problems that could hinder you from eating well, which could lead to malnutrition. On the other hand, if you are deficient in certain nutrients or you do not practice good dental hygiene, your entire mouth gets affected, which impairs your ability to take in food. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Tooth Decay and Demineralization
Tooth decay also known as dental caries begins when bacteria inside the mouth stick to the tooth enamel and form dental plaque. This is a clear, gelatinous film that must be removed through brushing and flossing. Sugars from carbohydrate food sources are actively fermented by the bacteria. This process produces acids that de-mineralize the tooth enamel allowing bacteria to move into the tooth causing tooth decay, which results in the formation of cavities.
Dr. Ma. Lilibeth Martinez-Janerol of 1354th Dental Clinic, Philippine Army General Hospital and LMJ Dental Clinic recommends brushing your teeth three times a day or every after meal. “At night, floss and use mouthwash after brushing your teeth. You should visit your dentist twice a year to maintain good oral health,” says Dr. Janerol.
Oral Health and Nutrition
Oral health is not limited to one’s teeth. Healthy gums and tongue are equally important. With proper dental hygiene and nutrition, these are achievable. The following nutrients are crucial in preventing dental problems:
Vitamin C – Abundant in citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables like our local malunggay leaves, bell peppers, guava, kiwi, and berries, this vitamin prevents scurvy characterized by bleeding, swollen gums and gingivitis or inflammation of the gums. Vitamin C also prevents plaque buildup as evidenced by some studies.
Vitamin B12 – A deficiency of this vitamin leads to the swelling of tongue or glossitis, which is characterized by a smooth tongue. It is also called beefy red tongue. If you notice uneven discoloration of your tongue or white patches, you are likely deficient with vitamin B12 too. This condition is known as geographic tongue.
Have you ever had a canker sore or commonly called “singaw” in Filipino? It is a small ulcer in your mouth, gums, or lips. It may be small but very painful. Consume food rich in vitamin B12. Incorporate lean red meat, low fat milk and dairy products, egg, fish, and poultry into your diet.
Vegetarians and vegans will need supplementation under the management of a dietitian or physician because this vitamin is not present in plant foods.
Fluoride – This mineral strengthens the tooth and prevents decay. Our drinking water supply is fluoridated and common toothpastes also contain fluoride. Excess fluoride leads to fluorosis causing teeth to be undesirably discolored, mottled, and toughened.
Calcium and vitamin D – This pair of nutrients work hand in hand to keep bone and teeth strong. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium. Egg, milk, and milk products, calcium-fortified food and green leafy vegetables are high sources of calcium.Vitamin D can be obtained from daily sun exposure of at least 10 minutes or from egg yolks, cheese, and fatty fishes like tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
Visit your dentist regularly no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient it may seem. When it comes to your health, don’t take chances. Let a professional take care of you.