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Tips for improving diet and oral health

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Good nutrition is essential for good health and also the health of your teeth. 

How does a poor diet affect oral health?  Tooth decay and cavities are caused by acid that is produced when the bacteria "eats" the same foods you eat and those food deposits are left on the teeth.  Certain foods, especially sugary, starchy and sticky snacks are linked to higher levels of such acid, causing bacteria.  Additionally, poor nutrition can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to other health problems, such as gum disease.

How can you maintain good nutrition?  Variety and moderation are the keys to a healthful diet.  Eat well-balanced meals, and choose a variety of options from the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and protein.  Limiting or eliminating one of these groups can lead to a vitamin or mineral deficiency.  This can impact your oral health.  More information on healthy eating habits is available through our nutrition specialist here at the medical group or on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines website at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.

What vitamins and minerals are important for oral health?  Your teeth and jaws are made mostly of calcium, which helps protect and rebuild your tooth enamel.  Not getting enough calcium puts you at risk for gum disease and tooth decay.  To get this calcium, you need to eat beans, greens, milk, yogurt and cheese.  Research has shown that dairy products not only provide calcium but may also help reduce your risk of cavities.  Vitamin D (found in milk, eggs and fish) is also an important nutrient because it helps your body to absorb calcium.  A vitamin D deficiency can lead to burning mouth syndrome, a painful condition in which patients feel a scalding sensation on the lip-tongue palate, or throughout the mouth.  Vitamin C (found in oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, and red and green peppers) promotes healthy gums and quick healing of wounds.  A severe lack of it could result in bleeding gums and loose teeth.

What foods are bad for oral health?  Sugar fuels the bacteria that produce acid and cause tooth decay. Avoid excessive intake of sugary foods and beverages like candy, sweet desserts and regular soda.  Sugar free soda can also be bad for your teeth, since these can contain acid that can cause tooth erosion.  Carbohydrates like chips, bread, pasta or crackers can also promote acid production from bacteria. These can be just as harmful to your teeth as sugar.  Eat these as part of a meal.  Whenever you eat or drink anything, you have a 20 minute time where the bacteria can produce acid to harm your teeth. Diluting this acid with non sugary foods or water can reduce this risk.  Of course, you can also reduce this acid by brushing and flossing after meals, too.

Adapted from the Academy of General Dentistry fact sheet, AGD Impact, January 2014 by Lt Col Leo Shockley, DDS, AGD member