It’s well known that good oral hygiene is essential for the health of your teeth, but did you know that your overall lifestyle also has an effect on your teeth?
Achieving and maintaining healthy teeth and gums involves a multi-faceted care approach including a good diet and drinking adequate water. Wahroonga Family Dental takes a look at the good habits that can help your teeth, as well as a few bad ones it’s best to avoid.
Food for thought: How your diet affects the health of your teeth
We all know our diet affects our overall health, but it’s also a big factor in the health of your smile. The foods that are good for your waistline are also generally the ones that are healthy for your teeth! Who’d have thought…
One of the biggest danger zones for our teeth is the super-sweet and highly addictive plethora of sugars in our modern diet. Rewind even just a hundred years and sugar was a rarer commodity which was often only affordable for those of a higher social standing. In fact, cavities were once known as a rich man’s disease as they were the only ones eating it regularly. Fast forward to now, and sugar is in almost everything.
This year has seen a large switch in the attitudes to sugar around the world. Nutrition Australia went so far as to completely remove sugar from the Healthy Eating Pyramid as it has virtually no nutritional value. The World Health Organisation also reviewed its guidelines this year to recommend adults and children “reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy”. They also added that “a further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.”
What are free sugars?
Free sugars are monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose, and disaccharides such as sucrose or table sugar which are added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, or the person making the meal. These include honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. However, free sugars do not include the sugars found naturally in fresh fruit and vegetables and milk products (lactose) as there is no reported evidence that these have adverse effects. Phew!
What do 25 grams of free sugar look like?
In our modern diet, not much. One 350mL can of Coca-Cola contains about 40 grams of sugar, while 350mL of apple juice contains about 39 grams of sugar, a 750mL bottle of Powerade Isotonic contains about 45 grams, and one tablespoon of tomato sauce has about a teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar hidden in it. Do you have cereal for breakfast? Even the “healthy” choices tend to have a whole lot of sugar hidden in them. It adds up very quickly. When we have too much sugar in our diets, our bodies often convert the extra to fat and store it.
How does this relate to your teeth though?
Sugar is acidic, and acidic foods can take a terrible toll on your teeth, leaving you with cavities. Other acidic foods include, but are not limited to, citrus fruits, wine, artificial sweeteners and salad dressings. Before you run straight to the bathroom and try to scrub that acid off your teeth though, a further word of warning; acid in foods and drinks softens the enamel on your teeth. This means that if you brush immediately after consuming these acidic foods, you could actually end up causing more harm than good as you’ll simply scrub away the enamel, exposing the inner layers of your teeth, which leads to other problems. Instead, wait about half an hour for your saliva to do its job and neutralise the acids in your mouth. This gives your tooth enamel enough time to harden again so you won’t end up doing your teeth even more harm.
If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, it’s wise to do this gradually. Sugar really is addictive and can cause withdrawals such as headaches and nausea if you try to go cold turkey.
Are you drinking enough water?
Water is the elixir of life. Without it, our cells cannot survive, let alone thrive. On average the human body is made up of 50-65% water. Your brain and heart are about 73% water, your lungs about 83% water, your skin is about 64% water, your muscles and kidneys are about 79% water, and even your bones are about 31% water. Water regulates our internal body temperature, flushes waste, lubricates our joints, delivers oxygen all over our body, acts as a shock absorber, and makes up about 98% of our saliva. As mentioned above, saliva is what allows your body to neutralise the acids in your mouth after eating or drinking. Each day our bodies lose anywhere up to 2L of water through normal bodily functions.
The Dietitians Association of Australia recommends adults should drink about 1.5-2L of water a day, or 35-45mL per kg of body weight, while children should drink about 1-1.5L a day. Make this tap water and you’ll have the added benefit of fluoride, which further helps to protect your teeth from cavities and decay. Win-win!
Is alcohol bad for your teeth?
Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are generally high in sugar, and highly acidic. It’s even worse if you drink so much you vomit – imagine what the stomach acid does to your teeth! That doesn’t mean you have to be a teetotaler though; try switching high-sugar soft drink mixers for soda water, and drinking through a straw to minimise the contact your drink of choice has with your teeth. It’s also wise to drink water both during and after consuming alcoholic beverages. This will not only help your saliva to neutralise the acids, but you’ll also feel better for it the next day.
Does smoking affect the health of your teeth?
Smoking is one of the leading causes of mouth cancer. It can also lead to gum disease as it affects the attachment of your gums to your teeth and bone. On top of this, there are also the nasty stains that smoking leaves on your teeth. Smoking is bad news for both your general and oral health. If you’d like help to stop smoking, talk to your health professional about the best course of action for your unique needs.
Healthy living and the health of your teeth go hand in hand
Adopting a healthy living regime can help keep your teeth in good condition, but it’s still also essential to keep up good oral hygiene. It’s important to brush with a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day, floss your teeth daily, and attend regular check-ups with your Wahroonga Family Dental Centre dentist about every six months.