Diet Tips for Healthy Teeth and Gums

Keeping plaque at bay is only half the solution. Minimizing your intake of food and drink that can break down to form acids in the mouth is the other. In very simplified terms this is because these foods and plaque combine to form acids in contact with the surface of the teeth. These are strong enough to ‘eat’ through the hard, outer enamel layer of the tooth. Once this has been accomplished, the bacteria in the plaque enter the softer parts of the tooth (the dentine) and decay begins in earnest.


Basically and not to put too fine a point on it, we need to minimize our sugar intake. Clearly this is not as easy as it sounds. If the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer and cardiac diseases cannot persuade hundreds of millions of smokers to give up smoking, then giving up sweets, soft-drinks and chocolates to protect teeth must be an uphill struggle. After all, it is not such a dramatically terminal disincentive.


Fruit is good for you, and not long ago it was thought that apples were also good for the teeth. Indeed, there was a time when dentists had pictures of apples in their surgeries, with a caption urging chil­dren to eat them. Now it is recognized that they too contain tooth-harmful sugars, as do most other fruits. However, they are not as harmful as the mainstream glucose and sucrose, and most certainly not harmful enough to stop eating fruit.


While you would probably expect tinned peaches in syrup to be high in sugars, it may surprise you to know that most tinned soups, baked beans, spaghetti, ravioli, meat and vegetarian stews and many tinned vegetables also contain added sugar, as do nearly all the pro­prietary pickles, ketchups and sauces on the super­market shelves. Indeed, in the tinned and bottled area it is difficult to avoid sugars altogether.


Although milk has a high calcium and Vitamin D content, and therefore is good for teeth and bones, it too has a high sugar content. Colas, juices and other soft drinks also contain sugars, even when they claim to have no added sugar. And fizzy drinks, because they contain acids, are worse for the teeth than still drinks. It would also appear that vegetarian foodstuffs are often worse for the teeth than other foods because they tend to be accompanied by a higher than average amount of sugars and pickles to lend more taste.


Comforters should not be dipped in milk or sweet syrupy substances such as rose-hip syrup or honey, and babies’ bottles should have water rather than juices in them as often as possible. Try not to keep a stock of sugary food and drink in the home, and if possible do not take the children with you to supermarkets or food shops. Sugars are not the only substances that break down to form acids in the plaque. Some other refined carbohydrates are very bad for the teeth. Indeed, some maize products used to make munchy snacks are as cariogenic (causing decay) as any sweet. While other foods can break down to create acids – bread, for example -the amounts needed to be eaten are so large for tooth damage to occur as to not constitute a real dental danger. And while citrus fruits, pickles and acids such as vinegar can erode teeth, for most people they make an existing problem worse, rather than create the problem in the first instance. For nearly all dental and medical researchers, sugars are the major suspect in tooth decay.

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