Originally written January 2015 for publication in Midlothian NOW Magazine:
Yes, you still have to brush and floss, and have your friendly neighborhood dental hygienist clean the areas you might miss. But if you keep your pearly whites sparkly clean and still find yourself on the wrong side of the dentist’s drill, it’s very possible your diet is at least partly to blame. Not to worry, though, you won’t have to make celery sticks and raw apples your primary source of calories (although they are great). Follow the guidelines below to make your next check up much more pleasant.
Kick the sugar habit for good.
No dentist enjoys being a broken record, but it bears repeating: Most of us eat and drink far too much sugar. If you are one of those that consume liquid sugar in any form (juice, soda, sweet tea, energy drinks), this is absolutely where you should start to cut back. Water and unsweetened green tea are your best options. And sugary food doesn’t only include candy and desserts. Any food that contains highly processed grains will convert into sugar very quickly, and should be drastically decreased. This includes crackers, cookies, breads, and pasta…even whole grain and gluten-free versions.
When the bad bacteria in your mouth consume sugar, they excrete acid as a byproduct. In normal circumstances, your saliva neutralizes this acid quickly enough so that no damage occurs to the teeth. However, when there is so much acid that your saliva can’t keep up, your tooth enamel begins to weaken, eventually causing a cavity. The first reason you might have excessive acid is excessive sugar intake, as discussed above. The second reason is the length of time you allow acid to bathe the teeth. This is why sipping sugary drinks throughout the day, or grazing on pretzels all day at the office, is much more harmful than having these kinds of treats with a meal. The last diet-related reason your teeth are exposed to too much acid is the extra acid some folks eat, or more often, drink. Drinks with added acid, like soda and sports drinks, are the worst offenders. Coffee and distilled bottled water are also acidic (tap water, or water with added minerals, is most likely to be neutral). Even squeezing lemon in your water is damaging if sipped on all day.
Healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins
Recent evidence shows that people deficient in vitamin D have more cavities than people who have adequate blood levels. And the Weston A. Price foundation has long promoted the healthy fats from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals as a way to enhance tooth health. Consuming bone broth from these animals is an easy, inexpensive way to get more minerals and omega-3 fats, and absorb those fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E, and K. One very important added benefit to consuming more healthy fats: they make meals more satisfying! As you decrease the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you eat, healthy fats can fill that void without making you feel hungry or grouchy.
Lastly, ask for help! Your dentist or a registered dietitian would be happy to guide you through the process of improving your nutrition, in order to improve your dental visits.