A healthy smile is something most people desire and is something that some pay a lot of money for… but when it comes to maintaining what we have, we can often forget the impact of our eating behaviours.
Eating guidelines for our mental, physical and emotional well-being can sometime contradict dental advice, e.g. the age old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Yes, but diets with ‘excessive consumption’ of acidic or sugary foods (or beverages) may produce dental erosion; paired with already softened dental enamel and the chomping action of raw, abrasive or fibrous foods, might cause further damage to our teeth, a.k.a. dental attrition.
Fruits, fruit juices, fruit ‘drinks’, ‘smoothies’ or fruit-based herbal teas are not the only contenders to produce such an effect; wines, sugary drinks (i.e. squashes), fizzy drinks, ‘alco-pops’, sweets, vinegar or vinaigrette’s, or even tomato-based sauces can all play their role as a catalyst to erosion and/or dental caries due to their high acidity and/or sugary nature. Any food or drink with a pH value below 7 is considered acidic and anything below 5.3 can potentially cause ‘acid wear’ to our teeth.
I personally do not have an uncontrollable desire to consume fizzy drinks or sweets, but I do enjoy my homemade vinaigrette’s, whole fruits and some foods in brine. As a former dental nurse with over ten years of dental experience, I am more than aware of the pitfalls of completely neglecting your dental health, e.g. from a bad diet, stress-related factors or even a cleaning/hygiene point of view and I would fully recommend everyone to regularly visit a dentist for regular check-ups and hygienist treatments.
As a nutritionist, I am going to help you get the balance right with some comprehensive advice about foods and drinks, as well as some behaviours to avoid, so you can still enjoy your meals and drinks without worrying about damaging your teeth.
3 Foods & Dinks To Limit And/Or Avoid
Consuming these types of ‘enamel-eroding foods and/or drinks’ is a daily part of most people’s lives, but there are things we can do to help support our teeth and ultimately have a healthier diet too.
Consuming sticky dried fruits, hard candies and even crisps in between meals can be a dentist’s (and nutritionist’s) worse nightmare; these types of foods are likely to stick deep into the fissures of our teeth. Not only is consuming these unhealthy snacks a likely contributor to weight gain and chronic health problems, it can enable acid attacks on our teeth and cause dental decay. If you cannot avoid it, then try rinsing your mouth with water or chew sugar-free gum afterwards; this can help stimulate the secretion of saliva which helps neutralize acid attacks.
If you are a fan of drinking ‘sports drinks’, high-sugar energy drinks, fizzy carbonated drinks, fruit juices/drinks or ‘smoothies’, I hope it’s in moderation?! Type 2 diabetes, obesity, along with potential tooth decay and erosion is something you can look forward to otherwise.
Once more, if you are consuming these types of drinks, try to avoid them in between meals, don’t ‘swish’ them around in your mouth and if possible, try and drink them through a straw to reduce the quantity and frequency of the acid coming into contact with your teeth; I know this doesn’t sound very ‘manly or socially acceptable’, but there you have it! Also, diluting these drinks with water will allow you to cut down on the amount of sugar and acid you’ll be consuming.
3 Dental Practices To Think Twice About
1. D.I.Y Home Whitening (Or Using Unregulated Providers For Whiter Teeth!)
Our diets contain so many ‘stain-causing’ foods and beverages, as well as anyone that smokes will suffer from tooth discolouration. Therefore it can be all the more tempting to approach a cheap ‘salon’ or purchase a D.I.Y home whitening kit promising ‘pearly whites’.
Unfortunately, tooth whitening through bleaching agents is not a permanent procedure and unless we consume a bland/white diet (which is unlikely!), over time we will accumulate this staining once again.
If you do decide to have a tooth whitening experience, make sure it’s performed by a dentist or another regulated dental professional. It is illegal for someone that is not a qualified dental professional to perform this procedure (make sure to check their GDC registration if you are unsure).
This is one of the reasons why tooth whitening costs as much as it does. Its a cosmetic procedure deemed non-essential by the NHS and private whitening fees start at about £300… but you get what you pay for.
Dental professionals (like any other healthcare professional), but not beauticians (an example of an unregulated provider), provide an in-depth assessment for your care and well-being, including suitability for any procedure. If you haven’t been to the dentist in the past year, then you may have developed an ‘underlying problem’, e.g. dental caries, dental abscesses, broken teeth, exposed roots, clenching and grinding habits that have produced cracks and existing teeth sensitivity, receding gum lines or ‘gum disease’.
It’s also not suitable for anyone under the age of 16, pregnant women and those that have ‘braces’, as well as anyone with: pre-existing fillings, crowns or any other tooth restorations; as they must be advised that these materials will not whiten with the other ‘virgin teeth’. Ultimately, your teeth without restorations will end up looking whiter than the ones with.
Bleaching concentrations are regulated and their application is precisely controlled. Unqualified individuals may end up damaging your teeth or burning your oral tissue in the process if the incorrect procedures and solutions were to be used.
Furthermore, dental professionals are not going to apply ‘mystery concoctions’ over your teeth and hope for the best. This is essentially what you are doing if you try to whiten your teeth with unregulated whitening kits (i.e. off the internet) or home-made solutions of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and/or ‘fruit mixtures with potentially badly fitted bleaching trays.
These mediums can end up damaging your dental enamel (or worse) because they can be acidic/abrasive, leaving your tooth’s dentine exposed (which is naturally yellow in colour) and leaving you to prone to tooth sensitivity.
2. Immediately Brushing After Meals
I know it can be difficult with our demanding lifestyles and time constraints, but brushing our teeth after meals is a sure fire way to scrub away our lovely tooth enamel… and we only get one set of ‘permanent’ teeth and one coat of ‘enamel folks’.
Our mouths can have an acidic environment from intrinsic or extrinsic factors. If our teeth are exposed to acids, the enamel can begin to soften; if you already have dentine exposure, this tooth surface is even more vulnerable to erosion. We need to allow the natural processes of ‘remineralisation’ to occur before we grab our toothbrushes. Ideally leaving 30 to 60 minutes to allow the saliva’s pH to return to ‘tooth-friendly’ levels; this will allow the softened enamel a chance to reharden/remineralise and be more resistant against ‘tooth brushing abrasion’.
Understandably most of us do not have this luxury of ‘downtime’ before we head off to work. In this case, rinse your mouth with a fluoride mouth rinse (and if your really proactive, take your tooth brush to work with you) before you leave. Ideally, brushing your teeth before breakfast would be more beneficial because your mouth has a neutral pH. I know you might detest this because the ‘toothpaste flavour’ can alter the taste of your food, but it’s in your best interests. Brushing after meals compounds the ‘dental erosion’ problem through plaque (which produces acid when exposed to sugar) and brushing softened enamel.
3. Using A ‘Fluoride Free/Natural” Toothpaste To Regularly Brush Your Teeth
Although dentistry has been improving, a 2009 report highlighted that 39% of adults were still experiencing some sort of dental problem. Another survey published by Public Health England in 2012, showed that 27% of 5 year-olds still had some form of tooth decay. Children’s teeth are smaller and have thinner enamel; if paired with a bad diet and improper brushing, it can increase their risk of dental decay.
Although it could be a combination of things, why in the 21st century are we still having this preventable problem? It has been shown in studies and reports that fluoride aids the prevention of dental decay. So why should we take something out of the mix that has got a proven track record to help?
Fluoride is a natural mineral that hardens tooth enamel to keep our teeth strong thus preventing dental decay and/or reducing the progression of cavities. Using non-fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses due to personal, ethical or may even religious stand points could increase your chances of developing tooth decay given the right conditions, e.g. dry mouth/ reduced salivary flow, improper tooth brushing and interdental cleaning techniques (to remove plaque/food), lack of regular dental check-ups and dental cleanings, poor diet and/or frequent exposures to sugar and/or acid foods and beverages.
A non-fluoride toothpaste does not contain anything more than naturally sourced ingredients and flavourings, e.g. xylitol, menthol, baking soda, which are not going to necessarily help you in your war against tooth decay. They need to be used in part of a good ‘oral health care plan’ (which includes going to the dentist) to maintain the integrity of your teeth and your oral health.
It’s advisable to speak to your dental professional, as everyone has individual needs and therefore he/she can enable you to make informed decisions about our dental health (tailoring oral health care plans accordingly), before making any major changes to your routines. Particularly, people who have a medical or physical condition, or those who are taking specific medications, might also consider their options first before changing their dental care.
Considering we only get one set of permanent teeth, one body and one life… our diet is definitely worth considering, don’t you think?
- pH values of everyday foods
- How you can protect your enamel
- How to brush your teeth
- Children’s teeth
- NHS Choices: teeth whitening
- Dental council calls for teeth-whitening controls
Article written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Clearskinacne Flickr