You may remember that your mother and grandmother used to chastise you about hiding a sweet under your pillow to eat in bed. Of course, you were terrorized by threats of going to the “dreadful” dentist. Those who did not heed the warnings of our older heads would end up losing teeth through their life cycle.
Truth be told, nutrition for children must target healthy teeth and good oral hygiene to inculcate the principles for good oral health from very young, which children should practice through to adulthood.
Starches and sugars
While you were told that eating sugary foods led to tooth decay, other factors lead to tooth decay, so sugars are not the only culprits. Heredity and the make-up and flow of saliva are other factors to be considered in oral health care.
The essence of the cavity-producing process starts in the mouth when bacteria found in dental plaque mixes with sugars and starches to form acid. Plaque forms in the mouth and clings to the surfaces of your teeth and the gum line. Acid produced by bacteria in the mouth will wear down tooth enamel, resulting in dental cavities or tooth decay.
You may be wondering what is the role of nutrition in preventing dental cavities. The more often you eat carbohydrate foods, especially as snacks between meals, the more likely acid will form and attack the teeth. Bacteria are nourished when you suck hard candy, slowly sip sweet beverages or nibble on sweet biscuits. Bacteria covers teeth with plaque acids and the action continues up to 30 minutes after eating, especially if you eat sticky foods. There is no difference between candy and pasta in leading to tooth decay. Any food that contains carbohydrate will provide nourishment for bacteria in plaque, and it depends on how often you eat carbohydrates and how long it stays on your teeth.
There are some foods that strengthen teeth and the jawbone because of the nutrients they contain. Helpful nutrients are calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
The body produces up to a quart of saliva each day, so you should drink enough fluids to get your saliva flowing. Saliva helps protect your teeth from decay as it helps to clear carbohydrates from the mouth, quickly reducing the time that bacteria will build up and form plaque acids. Saliva has minerals – calcium, phosphorus and fluoride – which provide protection for the teeth.
Tips for healthy gums and teeth
Choose a healthy diet and eat a variety of balanced foods from the six Caribbean food groups.
Limit carbonated sodas and sweet fruit drinks.
Watch sugary snacks between meals. If you have a sweet tooth, try replacing sweets with a healthy choice like fruits and vegetable sticks. Fruits and vegetables contain a high volume of water such as cucumbers, melons, celery and otaheiti apples. Brush immediately after consuming fruits like mango and dried raisins as these contain concentrated sugar.
Brush teeth at least twice a day after meals and be sure to floss. Brushing too often will be abrasive to tooth enamel.
Drink a lot of water.
Eat cheese more often as it helps stimulate salivary flow.
Limit sticky foods like raisins, granola bars, peanut butter, honey, molasses and syrup which are difficult for saliva to wash away.
Purchase foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened.
Increase consumption of good sources of calcium into the diet, including milk, broccoli and yoghurt.
Always plan to eat you your way to winning smiles!