When most patients think about oral care and oral hygiene, they think about brushing, flossing, and mouthwash. But it is important to understand that cleaning your teeth is not the only way to improve your oral health: what you eat can also help fight against everything from gum disease to tooth decay. In addition, your diet and your oral health can both affect your overall health, often known as your systemic health.
How Your Diet Affects Your Oral Health
In the 1960s and 1970s two dueling theories of diet and oral health were postulated:
- Dr. Thomas Cleave and Dr. John Yudkin of England postulated that the excess consumption of simple carbohydrates like sugars caused both oral disease and systemic disease.
- Dr. Ancel Keys, an oceanographer and biologist, argued that a diet high in fats caused systemic disease, such as heart disease, and that the population should eat a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat. He believed that the oral health issues that stemmed from this diet could be reversed through brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings.
Unfortunately, Keys’ low-fat diet won the support of the government and its guidelines were endorsed nationally for decades. Only recently has the first theory resurfaced, with the help of multiple studies to help back up its validity. Today we know that your diet can have a significant affect on your oral health and that high sugar intake is linked to both poor oral health and poor systemic health.
Here are a few quick study-based facts about oral health and sugar:
- The addition of two sugary drinks per day increased gum pocket depth within just four days.
- Reducing carbohydrate consumption reverses gingival bleeding within weeks.
- Tooth decay is significantly reduced when free sugars make up less than two percent of your diet.
How Your Oral Health Affects Your Systemic Health
While the relationship between your diet and your oral health is somewhat straightforward, the relationship between your oral health and your systemic health is more complex. Scientists and dentists understand less about how these two systems affect each other, though research suggests that oral health affects systemic health and vice versa.
Many believe that oral health is a canary in a coal mine: when a person has poor oral health, systemic diseases will follow years or even decades down the road. Poor oral health has been correlated with:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory infections
- Pregnancy complications
One popular theory is that bacteria that live in the mouth can travel to other parts of the body. Another theory is that inflammation in the mouth leads to systemic inflammation. In some cases, oral health and another health issue might influence each other; for example, oral health may worsen diabetes, while diabetes can worsen oral health.
Eating Right for Oral Health: A Diet For Great Teeth
What can you do to make sure your diet aligns with your oral health goals?
- Limit free sugars and simple carbohydrates. Specifically, stay away from candy, desserts, sodas, and juices. Also limit your intake of processed white flour. To be sure of how much sugar you are eating, look for how many grams of sugar per serving is in a food on its nutrition label.
- Eat more protein and fiber. Your diet should consist of lean meats and proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Not all fats are bad for you: focus on healthy fats found in items like avocados, olive oil, seeds, nuts, and fish.
Visit Montana Dental Arts
One of the best ways to care for your oral health and your overall health is to regularly visit a dentist. We invite you to schedule a consultation at Montana Dental Arts, where you can get the dental care you need as well as create a plan for lifelong oral health. To schedule an appointment, ask a question, or speak with our team, please call 406.728.6068 or fill out our contact form.