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Volume III
December 17, 2010

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Eating Habits and

Dental Health -

There's a Connection!

By Alice Osborne
This might not be the best time of year to poo-poo sweets, but somebody needs to. It starts with Halloween, and doesn’t really end until after Valentine’s Day — the dentist’s worst nightmare — the dreaded sugar binge! Not only does it add unneeded pounds, and push the insulin-resistance issue, it wrecks havoc with our teeth!

Sugars (fruit sugar, milk sugar and table sugar) and cooked starches (cookies and bread, etc.), known as fermentable carbohydrates, are the only foods that can impact dental cavities. Because carbohydrates are used by cavity-promoting bacteria to produce acid and ultimately tooth decay, eating habits are also a key factor in causing or preventing tooth decay.

Frequency of eating is important because the acids are released to work on the teeth for about twenty to forty minutes following each eating occasion. The greater the frequency of eating, the more opportunity for the acid to work. Decay occurs when periods of acid attack or challenge to the tooth (demineralization) occur more frequently than periods of recovery (re-mineralization).

Similarly, those foods that tend to adhere to the teeth pose greater risks of decay than those that clear the mouth quickly. Consumer perceptions of foods that stick or adhere to the teeth usually are different from reality. Surprisingly, chips and crackers adhere longer than jelly beans and caramels. This may be because caramels and jelly beans contain soluble sugars that are washed away more quickly by saliva than foods such as bread or crackers, which are not dispersed rapidly by saliva, and thus linger longer on the teeth.

High carbohydrate-containing foods produce less acid when eaten with a meal than when eaten alone, because saliva production is increased during a meal to help neutralize acid production and clear food from the mouth. For instance, a small piece of cheese at the end of the meal can help combat the acids produced from carbohydrate foods during the meal.

Besides cheeses, the best food choices for the health of your mouth include chicken or other meats, nuts, and milk. These foods are thought to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to re-mineralize teeth (a natural process by which minerals are re-deposited in tooth enamel after being removed by acids).

Other food choices include firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) and vegetables. These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain, and stimulate the flow of saliva (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering acid). Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and lemons, should be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acid from them.

Poor food choices include (no surprises here) candy—lollipops, hard candies, and mints — cookies, cakes, pies, breads, muffins, potato chips, pretzels, French fries, bananas, raisins, and other dried fruits. These foods contain large amounts of sugar and/or can stick to teeth, providing a fuel source for bacteria. In addition, cough drops should be used only when necessary as they, like sugary candy, contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.

The best beverage choices include water, milk, and unsweetened tea. Limit your consumption of sugar-containing drinks, including soft drinks, lemonade, and coffee or tea with added sugar. Also, avoid day-long sipping of sugar-containing drinks, which exposes your teeth to constant sugar and, in turn, constant decay-causing acids.

Now I’m not the wet blanket I sound like. I’m just sayin’ we need to use a little good sense and lots of moderation. Dental professionals will tell us that good oral health leads to good overall health, and vice versa. So while we’re imbibing over the remainder of our holiday, let’s chase that Christmas cookie with a stalk of celery!

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