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Oral Hygiene 101

An Anticavity Diet
©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Calcium is necessary to maintain strong bones and teeth.

There is no perfect diet that will keep your teeth from all harm, but what you eat can have an effect on the health of your teeth and gums. Eating right has benefits on two fronts: By supplying your body with the right nutrients, a healthful diet strengthens your teeth from the inside; and by limiting the foods that promote bacterial growth, it protects your teeth from outside invaders.  Building strong teeth

Teeth are essentially a kind of bone. They are harder and more durable because they are on the outside, but the same nutrients that promote a strong skeleton promote strong teeth.

Calcium. The primary component of strong bone tissue is the mineral calcium. It gives the skeleton structure and hardness. It may seem that teeth, once they are fully grown, don't need any more calcium. Indeed, the most important time to ensure a proper amount of calcium in the diet is when teeth and bones are forming, but even after they are fully grown, teeth and bones still need to have an adequate supply. The body constantly takes calcium from bones and teeth and replaces it with new supplies. You should make sure that your body has plenty on hand.

Getting enough calcium in the diet can seem difficult for those who don't want to get too much fat. Good sources of calcium without too much fat are nonfat and low-fat milk, low-fat and nonfat yogurt, some dark-green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified orange juice.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium. It doesn't add to the hardness of bones and teeth in itself, but it promotes the deposition of calcium in the skeleton. Without it, it wouldn't matter how much calcium your body had available, because the calcium would not be absorbed into bone tissue.

Vitamin D is added to almost all commercial milk, and many other foods are now fortified with it. Your body has the ability to make its own vitamin D also. The vitamin is produced in the skin when your skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. It takes just 15 minutes a day of direct sun exposure on the skin to get the vitamin D your body needs.

Vitamin C. Almost every ailment has been said to be "cured" by vitamin C, but here there is a real connection -- connective tissue. Vitamin C is vital to the health of connective tissue such as your gums. In fact, one of the first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, is weak, sore gums that bleed easily. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and some vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Fluoride. The one nutrient that affects the health of your teeth the most is also one of the most controversial. The mineral fluoride has been proved to make teeth harder and more resistant to decay. Study after study has shown that people living in areas where fluoride is added to the water have fewer cavities than those who do not. Although many of us do get our fluoride from fluoridated drinking water, some don't have that option in their communities. Ask your doctor or dentist if you are concerned. 

Problem Foods

Because plaque formation is the start of virtually all types of dental disease, and plaque bacteria feed on leftover sugars, it stands to reason that cutting down on sugar -- in all of its forms -- will help prevent cavities. Easier said than done.

Sugar is one of the most insidious ingredients in the modern diet. If you look at almost any prepared food's ingredients, somewhere in that list will be sucrose or one of its close relatives (such as glucose, maltose, lactose, fructose, galactose, dextrose, corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, and so on). Even honey, no matter how unrefined, contains simple sugars that serve as a banquet meal for plaque bacteria. The same goes for fructose (naturally occurring fruit sugar).

Complex carbohydrates can also provide food for bacteria in your mouth. In fact, some researchers suggest that starchy foods may be even more detrimental to your teeth than simple sugars. Starches are more sticky than sugar; the saliva that usually dissolves and washes away small amounts of sugar on the teeth might not be able to contend with the clumps of potato chips or crackers stuck in and around molars. Starchy foods that stick to your teeth and stay there for hours provide plenty of fuel for enamel-eroding microbes.

This doesn't mean that you should avoid starchy foods. On the contrary, they are part of a healthful diet. It only means that you must be more conscious of how these foods affect your teeth and more conscientious about cleaning them after you do enjoy those snack chips. Although no other nutritional component besides sugar has been positively linked to tooth decay, the rest of your diet cannot be overlooked in your effort to maintain healthy teeth and gums. A diet that is full of sugars and overprocessed foods (or one devoid of vitamins, minerals, and crunchy fruits and vegetables) can eventually lead to decay, even in the mouths of the most avid brushers and flossers. 

Don't let anxiety keep you from visiting the dentist -- professional care will help you keep your teeth clean and healthy. Go to the next page to learn more about the importance of a trip to the dentist's office.

Your teeth need lots of care and attention to ensure life-long good oral health. Visit the links below for more information about protecting and caring for your teeth.

  • If you're not vigilant in your oral hygiene, an assortment of afflictions can attack your teeth and gums. Learn more in How Dental Disease Works.
  • Do you wish your teeth had just a bit more sparkle to them? How Tooth Whitening Works takes a look at procedures you can undergo to brighten your pearly whites.
  • When you have an ache in your teeth, getting rid of it is the only thought in your head. In How to Relieve a Tooth Ache, find out how to deal with dental distress.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.