Your diet has a greater influence on your dental health than most people realise. Everyone knows that too much sugar combined with poor dental hygiene causes cavities. But your diet’s influence on your oral health goes far beyond this and started already before you were born.
While the teeth are formed
Already during pregnancy it is important that the mother gets the recommended amount of minerals and vitamins through her diet in order for the teeth of her baby to develop properly. The fetus starts to form teeth already in the 8th week after fertilization and from the fourth month they develop continually.
At birth, most of the crowns of the teeth are mineralized, although they will not be visible in the mouth untill about 6 months later. After the child is born the roots of the teeth continue to develop and the need for a proper diet thus continues. In fact, the forming of the teeth does not end before age 18, when the wisdom teeth normally erupt.
Diet and the development of muscles and jaws
Developing teeth not only need nourishment for mineralizing. Your diet is also important for the development of your oral muscles and the growth of your jaws. More and more children need braces because their jaws have not grown enough to make room for the erupting teeth. This happens when the child eats too much soft food that does not require much chewing. Hard vegetables and coarse-grained foods are very beneficial for the development of a child’s muscles and jaws.
Your diet and cavities
Cavities are the result of a combination of plaque and sugar. Plaque is a layer of bacteria that is formed automatically within a short time after you brush your teeth and which will continue to build up untill you brush them again. Plaque in itself does not cause cavities. It is only when sugar is added to the plaque, that the bacteria in the plaque start to produce the acid which breaks down the tooth. At the same time sugar alone does not cause cavities if there is no plaque on the teeth. Since it is normally not possible to keep your mouth 100% plaque free, it is important to be aware of the amount of sugar you take in through your diet. It is especially the sugary snacks in between meals that damage your teeth. If you are constantly adding sugar to your plaque, your teeth will be under a constant acid attack. Your mouth needs a break between meals so that your saliva can neutralise the acid and restore the natural balance in your mouth.
If you are in the habit of snacking between meals, consider eating sugar free candy or chewing gum. Be aware that many ‘healthy’ snacks such as fresh or dried fruit and biscuits also contain sugar, although in a less unhealthy form than the refined sugar in cakes and candy. Vegetables (especially carrots) are the least ‘damaging’ snacks, since they contain very little natural sugar.
Give your teeth a break
Also try to limit your consumption of sugary and/or sour beverages. A bottle of soda or juice can often last for hours if you are only sipping from it now and then. This habit is very damaging to your teeth, though. Research has shown that it normally takes around 20 minutes for your mouth to restore it’s natural acid balance after you have eaten. This means that if you are snacking all through the day e.g. by eating candy of drinking softdrinks, the acidity in your mouth will be constantly out of balance and your teeth will be under constant attack. Instead of quenching your thirst with sugary drinks, consider a more healthy alternative such as milk or water.
If you absolutely need your sugary snacks and beverages, remember that cavities arise from a combination of sugar AND plaque. A clean tooth will not develop a cavity, so remember to brush your teeth completely clean at least two times per day.