Last week, we mentioned the connection between gum disease and overall health. Once you recognize the mouth/body connection, it’s easy to see how all the things you do for your general health – eating right, exercising and the like – support healthy teeth and gums, as well.
The importance of eating well was underscored earlier this month by “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals,” the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The latest version of their position paper on diet and oral health makes plain that “nutrition is an integral component” of a healthy mouth.
According to the paper, dental caries “is the most prevalent, chronic, common, and transmissible infectious oral condition in humans.” In addition, a person’s overall health can be affected by tooth loss, since declining periodontal health can lead to diminished dietary quality because of lack of essential nutrients in a person’s diet.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways in which diet can affect dental health – just the more familiar ones. Nutritional deficiencies, notes the paper, can affect a broad array of oral conditions, from caries (cavities) to cancer (and plenty in between), as well as how a person responds to treatment. (You can download a copy of the whole paper here.)
Unfortunately, the AND paper is also pro-fluoride, despite the many well-documented risks and limited support for the efficacy of fluoridation in particular. Keeping a healthful diet, quite frankly, is apt to do much more good for you and your teeth.
And this means more than just avoiding the stuff that can harm your teeth – sugars, soda and the like. It’s about making sure you get the nutrients your teeth, gums and bone need. Here are some of the most important:
Vitamins C and E are key. These anti-inflammatory agents help your gums stay healthy and reduce oral acidity, which makes it a little tougher for bacteria to colonize. Good sources of C include citrus and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, kale). For E, try eating more whole grains and nuts.
- Calcium, Magnesium, Phosporus, Zinc, Iron and Trace Minerals
Minerals support bone growth and maintenance. They’re also essential for remineralizing teeth. Meat, fish and dairy are all rich in minerals, but there are plenty of great plant sources, as well. (See, for instance, this guide to vegan sources of vitamins and minerals.)
- Vitamins D & K
Like magnesium, vitamin D helps your body absorb and assimilate calcium more effectively. Helping it do so is vitamin K, which also helps with blood clotting, preventing calcification of the blood vessels and heart valves, and protecting against oxidative damage. While we can get some D through diet – such as fortified dairy – our bodies can actually produce this vitamin with the help of sunlight (10 to 20 minutes a few times each week). Dietary sources of K include dark, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocado and eggs.
Of course, although we know more specifically about how these nutrients work, the relationship between diet and dental health is not anything new. The important research of Dr. Weston Price paved the way…
Image by mini true, via Flickr