Our teeth get a lot of attention. Whether we’re having a conversation or smiling for a picture, most of us want our teeth to be strong, healthy, and sparkling white.
However, many of us overlook something essential. In addition to a healthy oral routine of brushing, flossing, and regular dental checkups, nutrition also plays a large role in the health of our teeth.
Teeth not only respond to our nutrition, but they also are an important determinant of our nutritional intake. Their importance is evident in elderly populations, among whom gum disease, ill-fitting dentures, and other painful dental conditions can limit the type of food eaten.
Dental cavities are among the earliest observed manifestations of poor dental health. Their presence is attributable to insufficient brushing and flossing, and high intake of sugary food and drinks.
Soda, with its high phosphoric acid content, is linked with tooth enamel erosion and, if the soda contains sugar, tooth decay. Even drinks considered to be “healthier” like pure fruit juice can wreak havoc.
Tooth enamel is formed mainly from calcium phosphate. Our saliva contains calcium and phosphorous ions that continually remineralize enamel.
While most people have an adequate amount of phosphorous, the same cannot be said for calcium, leading to the importance of its supplementation.
A three-year trial showed that supplementation with calcium and vitamin D resulted in a lower risk for losing teeth, particularly when calcium intake was 1,000 mg per day.
Children born from women who were supplementing with calcium during pregnancy have a lower risk of tooth decay and missing teeth. Similarly, pregnant women supplementing with vitamin D had less risk of having a child with a defect in dental enamel.
Calcium intake of at least 800 mg a day has shown to reduce risk of periodontal disease, which is associated with tooth loss.
It’s been thought that the mineral selenium may also be responsible for improved dental health. This makes sense, since one of the most important organic components in the tooth matrix is collagen, and it can be made stronger by selenium.
Probiotics have recently received recognition for their role in cavity prevention. When children supplemented with the strain Lactobacillus reuteri during their first year of life, they were more likely to remain cavity-free at age nine.
While fluoride has been shown to strengthen enamel, recent opinion holds that topical administration (via toothpastes, rinses, or fluoride treatments) may be more effective and safer than ingestion of fluoride (via water or pills).
Teeth need and respond to the intake of certain nutrients. Additionally, a healthy diet that limits the intake of simple sugars can help protect the teeth from the outside.
Although it is not yet possible to regrow missing teeth or parts of intact teeth, such medical wonders are on the horizon. Currently, dental implants are impervious to decay. However, it is best to keep one’s own natural teeth as long as possible and sound nutrition is one way to help make it happen.