Oral Hygiene and Diet – Is There a Link?
Author: Vanessa Gagliardi
We’ve been told that brushing and flossing our teeth are the staples of dental hygiene as they both help to remove plaque and food particles from our teeth. However emerging research is showing that oral hygiene involves more than just brushing and flossing – we should also be focusing on our nutrition. If we eat foods that give us healthy teeth, it’s what our bodies need as well.
Dentists believe that the connection between the mouth and the body is the best way to monitor our health, and that our diet is the main cause of many problems in the mouth like rotten teeth and inflamed gums.
How does our diet impact our oral health?
A varied diet is essential for overall health and wellbeing, especially for oral health. Certain foods can promote a healthy mouth, while others can be unfavourable.
Fresh, crunchy foods like apples, capsicum, carrots, celery and cucumber help to promote a healthy mouth. Their water content, plus the chewing process, helps to clear away plaque and any harmful bacteria from the mouth. On the other hand, sugary and acidic foods and drinks have been shown to promote tooth decay by eroding our precious tooth enamel; and once our enamel is gone, it’s gone for good. Soft drinks, lollies and vinegar are examples, and should be consumed in moderation. Consider using a straw when you consume soft drink, and also if you add apple cider vinegar to your water.
Over the years, we have reduced our consumption of foods that promote healthy teeth, such as egg yolks, butter, meat and full-fat dairy. Sydney dentist Dr Steven Lin recommends consuming an abundance of these foods as they are rich in healthy fats and vitamins A, D and K2, which are essential for a healthy mouth. Vitamin D in particular has shown to protect against periodontal disease, and helps with the absorption of calcium which we know is a nutrient important for healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, button mushrooms and eggs.
Calcium is not only a major mineral that forms our bones and teeth, but it also promotes strong jaw bones to hold our teeth in place. Food sources of calcium include oranges, beans, broccoli, salmon and full-fat dairy products.
Another nutrient important for oral hygiene is vitamin C, found in fresh fruits and vegetables. A lack of dietary vitamin C is linked with gingivitis and scurvy (inflammation and bleeding of the gums) – this was discovered hundreds of years ago when those travelling long distances by sea had no access to fresh fruit or veggies, and as a result, experienced poor oral health. Research shows that adequate levels of vitamin C is protective against periodontal disease, in addition to its preventive effects against scurvy and gingivitis. Citrus fruits, broccoli, capsicum and strawberries are some examples of vitamin C-rich foods.
It is clear that certain foods and nutrients can impact our oral health. In addition to brushing, flossing and including the above foods and nutrients into your diet, here are some extra tips to promote a healthy mouth:
- Oil pulling - Oil pulling is a method that has been used for thousands of years in Indian folk medicine, where you swish oil around your mouth, similar to how you use mouthwash. Extra-virgin coconut oil is usually preferred due to its pleasant taste, and several studies show its anti-plaque and gingivitis-decreasing benefits. To perform oil pulling, swish 1-2 tablespoons of oil around your mouth for 15-20 mins daily. Spit out the oil after swishing.
- Chewing gum - Chewing on sugar-free gum after meals helps to boost the secretion of saliva which can help to clear away plaque and bacteria. Ensure the chewing gum you use is sugarless, as bacteria relies on sugar to produce plaque.
- Avoid harsh mouthwashes - Mouthwashes are thought to help prevent bad breath, marketed as an adjuvant product to use after brushing and flossing for extra cleanliness. Some mouthwashes containing ingredients like alcohol can be harsh on the bacteria in our mouth, stripping away not only the bad bacteria but also the good.
- Visit the dentist
The dentist may not be your favourite health professional to see, however dental check-ups are crucial for a healthy mouth. Dental check-ups should be scheduled at least twice yearly. Not only can dentists remove plaque and look for cavities, but they can also spot potential issues and offer professional treatment solutions.
If you are concerned about your oral health, before you make any significant changes in your diet, and/or before you take any new supplements, please speak to your dentist or other medical professional.
- Alshouibi, E.N. et.al. (2013), Vitamin D and periodontal health in older men, Journal of Dental Research, 92(8): 689-693
- Brown, V. (2017), Sydney dentist says you’re approaching oral hygiene all wrong, Body and Soul, <https://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/health-news/sydney-dentist-says-youre-approaching-oral-hygiene-all-wrong/news-story/6c9a1e9933806810ad57c9293dd7d8ed>
- Dental Health Services Victoria (n.d.), Calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, Oral Health for Better Health, <https://www.dhsv.org.au/dental-health/teeth-tips-and-facts/calcium-vitamin-d-and-phosphorus>
- Lee, J.H. et.al. (2017), The association of dietary vitamin C intake with periodontitis among Korean adults: Results from KNHANES IV, PLoS One Peer Reviewed Journal, 12(25):e0177074
- Peedikayi, F.C., Sreenivasan, P., Narayanan, A. (2015), Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis – A preliminary report, Nigerian Medical Journal, 56(2): 143-157
- Willershausen, B. et.al. (2011), The influence of micronutrients on oral and general health, European Journal of Medical Research, 16(11): 514-518
|Written by Vanessa Gagliardi|
Vanessa (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for good food. She uses nutrition and herbal medicine to help people feel their best, from the inside out.
Vanessa enjoys nature walks and Pilates, and loves a good almond mocha.