When we talk about a healthy diet we tend think about it in terms of keeping fit, fighting infection, weight loss and boosting our energy levels, but it also has an important impact on the health of our teeth and gums.
Of course we all know about ‘bad’ foods: sugar and acidic foods especially fizzy drinks, sweets, processed food etc. These not only affect our waistlines and overall health, but are also the main culprits when it comes tooth decay and gum disease. However, a healthy diet for your teeth is not just about avoiding the bad foods. It should also be about eating foods that give our teeth and gums the specific nutrients they need to keep healthy.
Nutrients For Healthy Teeth And Gums
The following nutritional deficiencies are closely associated with gum disease and dental problems:
Vitamin C: You might think that scurvy is a disease of the Victorian era, but it is on the increase in the UK although the numbers are thankfully small. Lack of Vitamin C, and scurvy is the ultimate manifestation of this deficiency, can cause bleeding, gum disease and the loss of teeth. Vitamin C is important for the production of collagen, which is a component of the tissues supporting the teeth, also for bone formation and strong healthy teeth, and for immune function and wound healing – fighting off infection and repairing tissue damage.
Proteins, Vitamin D and Calcium: these nutrients are needed for bone formation and a deficiency of these could result in the reabsorption of bone around the teeth and subsequently tooth loss. Protein and Vitamin D are also important for the connective tissues around the teeth, and calcium protects tooth enamel and can enhance enamel remineralisation.
Folate (folic acid): Low levels of folate have also been linked to gum disease. Folic acid has been shown to help protect gum tissue by reducing inflammation and increasing resilience to dental plaque and anaerobic bacteria.
As well as these essential nutrients, your teeth and gums also need a host of other nutrients that keep your body functioning at its’ best. So if you eat a healthy diet you’ll be looking after your teeth and gums at the same time.
Superfoods To Prevent Gum Disease
While diet is not the only factor that can increase your chances of getting gum disease – smoking, poor dental hygiene, and other medical conditions can also increase your risk – avoiding those ‘bad’ foods and making an effort to eat healthily is a great step to better oral health.
If you want to give your teeth and gums an additional boost, there are some superfoods that may help prevent gum disease when eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet:
Polyphenol rich foods
Studies have show that polyphenols can inhibit the growth of F. nucleatum (the oral bacteria that can cause gum disease), prevent plaque build up, and fight inflammation – all potentially reducing the chance of developing gum disease. Polyphenol rich foods include:
- Green and black tea – but don’t add sugar!
- Blueberries – a study in 2015 found that wild blueberry extract could help fight gum disease,
It is thought that the absence of ‘healthy’ bacteria in the mouth could allow the ‘bad’ bacteria that causes gum disease to colonise the mouth. In fact a US sudy shows that after receiving treatment for gum disease, ‘scaling and root planing’, patients treated with a probiotic lozenge twice a day were less likely to develop periodontitis 3 months later, compared to those in a placebo group. Foods that contain probiotics include:
- Live yoghurt,
- Soy milk,
- Miso soup,
- Dark chocolate – you can have an occasional treat!
Many of the nutrients your body requires are contained in whole foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains etc. – and it is generally thought that this is the best way of obtaining them, rather than by taking supplements. There is another additional benefit of getting these nutrients from whole foods: fibre. Chewing foods stimulates salvia and this is your natural defence against gum disease, neutralising acidity in your mouth and protecting your teeth from the build up of plaque.
We need water to keep us hydrated and that includes keeping bodily fluids like salvia topped up. If you’ve ever been dehydrated, perhaps while doing physical activity, you’ll know that your saliva thickens and your mouth becomes dry. Without this barrier protecting your teeth and gums, bacteria can multiply resulting in plaque and increasing your risk of gum disease.
Water is also a natural mouthwash, rinsing away food particles and particularly any sugars or acidity. If you’ve eaten any of those ‘bad’ foods and can’t brush your teeth straightaway it’s a good idea to drink water to minimise their effect.
If you’re worried about your oral health and think you may have gum disease please see your dentist for a check up and get advice for treating any issues. To prevent gum disease and for treating any minor symptoms; brush effectively twice a day, floss and use interdentals, buy a GumSaver brush to tackle the bacteria that lurks below the gum line, and enjoy a healthy diet.
Any questions? Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or concerns about your teeth and gums.