Nutrition and Dental Health

Tooth decay or “dental caries” is a common chronic childhood disease. However, tooth decay is preventable. Foods that contain sugar, whether it be refined and natural, can contribute to tooth decay. In general, people with poor nutritional status tend to have dental disease. This is true for children, teens, and adults. When poor nutrition becomes chronic, it may eventually take its toll on both general and dental health. Indeed, what you eat affects your entire physiology.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay (dental caries) is a specific kind of damage to teeth that can occur when decay-causing bacteria in the mouth make acids that attack the enamel, the surface layer of the teeth. These bacteria feed on sugars left on the teeth after consuming them. When bacteria attack the enamel, it can result in a small hole in a tooth, known as a cavity. If dental caries is not treated, it can lead to pain, infection, gum disease, and even tooth loss. Tooth decay does not discriminate—people of all ages can get it once they have teeth—from early childhood through the aging adult years. Young kids are at risk for “early childhood caries.” This condition is sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay. It leads to severe tooth decay in the baby teeth. Many older adults experience receding gums. Receding gums allow decay-causing bacteria in the mouth to contact the tooth’s root. Consequently, aging adults can get decay on the exposed root surfaces of the teeth.

Helpful interventions

Schools would be well-advised to remove vending machines that sell junk food. They should offer quality snacks like fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, yogurt, cheese, quality protein bars, and whole-grain snacks instead. Balancing sugar intake will help to control blood sugar in children and adults. Controlled blood sugar is essential for good health. Excessive dietary sugar is a significant risk factor for diabetes for people of all ages. After school snacks should be made of substantial-quality ingredients, too. Most store-bought cookies and energy bars are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and significant levels of refined sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. Preferable choices include:

  • Organic natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, maple sugar, molasses
  • Stevia powder
  • Dehydrated cane sugar juice 
  • Raw honey 
  • Monk fruit extract

It is best to avoid snack foods cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, or with added monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, and nitrates. With a little education and some mindful attention to dietary choices, tooth decay can be kept at bay. Many feel it is well worth the effort to have healthy teeth and a beautiful smile that lasts a lifetime.