Eating a healthy balanced diet is essential for all aspects of health and wellbeing, and that includes your teeth. The body needs a range of nutrients to function well, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. No single food provides all of these, so we need to eat a range of different foods each day. Our modern diet commonly includes a significant amount of processed and ‘fast’ food, which often contains fat, sugar and salt; to be healthy it is important to try and reduce fat, sugar and salt and find a balance which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein and modest amounts of fat.
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Why you should eat less sugar
The biggest enemies to dental health are sugars and acids in the diet. When you eat foods containing a lot of sugars, the bacteria in the plaque present on the tooth surface feed on the sugar to produce plaque acid. The plaque acid attacks the enamel on the tooth surface to cause decay (caries). The more often you eat products containing sugar, the more your teeth will potentially suffer. There are many ‘hidden’ sugars in manufactured and processed foods, which may not necessarily appear ‘sweet’. Take care when reading labels on tins and packets, and look out for hidden sugars, such as glucose, sucrose, lactose. Many products that used to contain sugar, however, are now available with sugar-free alternatives.
Eat more…foods that protect your teeth
Some foods help protect your teeth against decay. Dairy products contain calcium which helps strengthen teeth and bones. A piece of hard cheese or nuts instead of a sweet dessert will help fight decay by stimulating saliva. Try to increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, fish, lean meat and unprocessed foods in your diet. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals and snacks can help protect your teeth from decay. chewing produces saliva, which neutralises the plaque acid which causes decay.
What to snack on to protect your teeth
Snacks are often a prime source of sugars and fats, especially sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and crisps. Try instead to snack on fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables, low fat cheese, sandwiches, toast or crackers.
What to drink for best tooth health
Sugared and fizzy drinks can harm your teeth as they contain acids that can erode teeth, and carbohydrates (sugars) which feed the plaque acid that causes tooth decay. Even diet drinks which do not contain sugar can be harmful as they may be highly acidic. All these should be kept to mealtimes so that the saliva produced when eating can act to neutralise the acids. Acidic drinks e.g. grapefruit or apple juice can harm the teeth as they can cause dental erosion (ask your dentist for a fact sheet). Don’t clean your teeth immediately after drinking acidic drinks as the softened enamel can be damaged. Drinking through a straw can help reduce the acid contact directly with the front teeth. The best drinks for your teeth are water and milk. Coffee, tea and red wine (which is also acidic) can stain the teeth, and should be drunk in moderation.
It is not so important how much sugar you eat, but how often you eat it. It is the FREQUENCY of eating sugary foods and drinks, rather than the QUANTITY which causes tooth decay.
- Keep sugared snacks to a minimum and drink sugared and fizzy drinks only at mealtimes
- Eat at least five servings of fruit and/or vegetables every day
- Try to cut down on processed foods, especially those containing high levels of sugar, salt and fat
- Chew sugarfree gum after meals and snacks. Chewing for 20 minutes has proven to reduce tooth decay
- Brush regularly with flouride toothpaste and use floss or an interdental brush to clean away any bits of food which may be lodged between teeth
- Visit the dentist and hygienist regularly