Dental Nutrition

There is probably no aspect of dental prevention subject to more misinformation than that of nutrition. Before we can sensibly discuss what is true about dental nutrition, we must first dispose of the myths.

  • Myth # 1 - The more sugar you eat, the more tooth decay you will suffer. This is deceptive, sugar is part of the triad that leads to tooth decay, along with acid-forming bacteria and a susceptible tooth, but the amount of sugar is unimportant compared to the amount of time the sugar is present in the mouth. For example, a small candy bar and a roll of hard candies with holes in the middle, whose brand name I will not mention so I don't get sued, both contain about the same amount of sugar. The candy bar, when eaten, must be chewed, stimulating saliva flow. Once it is swallowed, the level of sugar in the mouth rapidly declines and is normal in about half an hour. The same amount of sugar in the hard candies slowly dissolved one at a time can keep the sugar levels in the mouth high all day long and does much more harm. It's the time that sugar is present that is important, not the amount, at least as far as your teeth are concerned.
  • Myth # 2 - Natural sugars are OK, only refined sugar is BAD. Nope, sorry. The little box of raisins does just as much harm as candy. Especially if you get them wedged between the teeth and let them stick there for hours. More bad news, many "sugarless" candies and gums contain organic materials that are immediately converted back into sugars and will support decay just like white sugar right out of the sugar bowl.
  • Myth # 3 - A little milk before bedtime helps small children sleep through the night. Maybe, until they are up all night with a toothache. Lactose in milk is a sugar and will support decay just like any other sugar. Worse, when we sleep, saliva production declines and the sugar we have in our mouths when we go to sleep will still be there in the morning. Less, of course, the amount the bacteria have turned into acid to dissolve the enamel of our teeth. Worst of all is the practice of putting a toddler to bed with a bottle of milk or fruit juice. This results in one of the most devastating forms of childhood tooth decay, Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. It is vital that we don't go to sleep with sugar on our teeth, if anything is eaten within an hour of retiring for the night, the teeth should be thoroughly cleaned and nothing else eaten before bed.
  • Myth # 4 - Pregnant women are subject to tooth decay because the baby draws calcium from their teeth. Sort of a reverse nutrition myth. Doesn't happen. Pregnant women are subject to tooth decay and gum disease, but the reasons have to do with the change in their hormones and a muting of their immune system that prevents the body from rejecting the developing fetus. Women who plan on becoming pregnant should make sure their mouths are in good condition before they become pregnant and should be particularly careful to keep their teeth clean. A dental cleaning and checkup during the middle trimester is also a good idea, but be sure to tell the dentist you are pregnant.
  • Myth # 5 - Oral sex can't cause tooth decay. Yes and no. Semen and spermatazoa contains sugars and proteins on which acid-forming bacteria may feed. Cervical mucous contains no such products, so cunnilingus is not a problem. The act of fellatio tends to promote saliva flow, but ingestion of semenal fluid should still be followed by vigorous oral rinsing soon after the act. Since sex is often the last thing we do before we go to sleep, and since saliva production declines throughout the night, it's even more important to rinse following the ingestion of semen.

So, what is good nutrition for your teeth? The same as good nutrition for the rest of your body. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables at mealtime, moderation when eating sweets, avoid junk food. The same foods that are full of empty calories that are bad nutrition for your waistline and your heart are bad for your teeth. As a rule of thumb, the more you have to chew it, the better it is.

For healthy teeth, think in terms of the time sugars of any kind will be on the teeth, not the amount. It is not necessary to deny your children, or yourself, all sweets for the sake of your teeth. A sweet snack in the afternoon will do no harm if followed by a glass of water and if the teeth are cleaned thoroughly before bedtime. Foods that require a lot of chewing stimulate saliva flow, and saliva protects the teeth by cleaning them, neutralizing acid, and inhibiting harmful bacteria. Soft foods, soft drinks, or oral sex should be followed by brushing or at least a vigorous rinse. The simple truth is that nutrition is not nearly as important to healthy teeth and gums as proper cleaning. If your teeth are thoroughly cleaned every day, they will last a lifetime no matter what you eat.

Eat well for the rest of your body. The nation is in the grips of an epidemic of obese children and adults. Heart disease, cancer and a host of other health problems are more affected by diet than your teeth. They are more durable than anything else you've got but your soul. With proper daily cleaning and a little judgement about the timing of sugary foods your teeth will last a lot longer than the rest of you.

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