Big Red Tooth – Dr Candice Schwartz

Where teeth and health meet

Diet and teeth.

How does diet affect your children’s teeth?

 

Diet is the key to a healthy, cavity free mouth. Many parents believe that choosing the best toothpaste will protect their young one’s mouths from holes and problems. This is unfortunately not the case. In order to fully understand the concept of diet affecting our teeth, you will need a short biology lesson.

 

Streptococci Mutans and Lactobacilli are the most common bacteria in the mouth responsible for tooth decay. When sugar is present in the mouth, these bacteria thrive off it, but unfortunately for us, through their own digestive process of these sugars, the waste products produced are acid. Specifically known as lactic acid, these by products leach out the calcium present in the teeth, thereby slowly weakening it. Over time, this demineralization (leaching out of calcium) of the tooth surface produces a hole. When sugars are present in high amounts, plaque forms. Plaque is the white/yellowish fur that we brush off our teeth every day. If plaque is left to ferment on the tooth surface, a cavity will result.

 

The goal in controlling plaque formation and cavities is to ultimately reduce the total intake of dietary sugar. It must be stressed however, sucrose (found in all sweets) is not the only sugar which damages teeth. Glucose (found in breads and rice), fructose (found in fruit), maltose (found in cereals and pastas) and lactose (found in milk) are all easily digested by mouth bacteria to form acid and destroy teeth. Dietary changes to alter the acidity of the mouth will directly reduce amount of plaque build up on the teeth, thereby reducing the chance of dental decay.

Our bodies do have a natural defense against acidity and this is saliva. Saliva acts as a natural cavity fighter. One of the key strategies in cavity reduction/elimination is to keep your mouth at a more alkaline pH (reduce bacterial acidity) throughout the day for longer periods. You do this by increasing saliva production and encouraging saliva production between meals.

This is how it works: When we eat a meal the pH of our mouths change in accordance to the type of food we have just eaten. Food containing higher amounts of carbohydrates and sugars will leave the mouth with an acidic pH, ranging from 1- 5. Increased saliva production will kick in and our saliva will buffer this acidity, slowly raising it back to the resting pH of approximately 7.5. If immediately after eating your main meal you have a sweet treat (piece of chocolate or a dessert), the acidity of your mouth does not change by much. Saliva is still produced and your mouth will quickly recover back to an alkaline pH, which does not allow sufficient time for bacterial colonization and acid production. The problem encountered, particularly with children, is sugary snacks given in between meals. Sugary snacks given an hour after a main meal will bring the pH of the mouth back down to an acidic level and bacteria will begin to thrive and produce more acid. It does not give the mouth time to recover from the acid overload and the mouth remains acidic for most of the day. This gives bacteria plenty of time to produce acidic waste and demineralize the teeth.

Give your children sugar free snacks between meals. Example: whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, sugar free (xylotol containing) chewing gum, cheese. Beware of dried fruit; this is very acidic and very high in sugar and not a good choice for in between meal snack.

Quick easy steps to making your child’s diet a tooth friendly diet

 

–     Allow sugar intake (sweets and treats) directly after main meals only. When sugar is given between meals as a snack, this leads to a high incidence of decay. The frequency of sugar intake has more impact than the amount of sugar intake. Between meal snacks should contain no sugar.

 

–      The best type of sweet for a child is chocolate. Sticky sweets like toffees/fizzers/jelly sweets/suckers stick in between and around the teeth and result in destruction of the teeth for a much longer duration as the sugar lies in and around each tooth. It is difficult to clean this sugar off the teeth and they are extremely acid producing.

–      Beware of dried fruit; this is not a good snack. It has a very high sugar content and high acidity. It not only causes dental decay but acid erosion of the teeth.

–      End each meal with a small piece of cheese/some milk/xylotol chewing gum. This neutralizes the mouth and stimulates saliva production.

–      Limit fruit juice intake to ½ a cup per day (if needed). I always advise parents to try to eliminate all juice and sodas from the diet. They do not give hydration. Children should only drink water. If your child does drink a soda/fruit juice, ensure they drink it through a straw, so it bypasses the mouth and the teeth and is swallowed immediately.

–      All babies must be weaned off their nighttime milk bottle/breast feed by the age of 1. At 1 year old they no longer require the nutrition of the milk during the night, as their diet is predominantly solid food. If your child still enjoys the bottle as a pacifier at night, put only water in this bottle. Rampant dental decay results if children are kept on a bottle/breast past one year of age.

–      Never add sugar/honey to rooibos tea. This sugar will rapidly decay teeth, especially if given through a bottle/sippy cup.

Dental decay is a preventable disease. Diet is at the centre of this preventative concept. Without a lower sugar intake, you cannot expect a cavity free mouth. The acidity produced by sugar does not only affect the mouth. This type of acidic environment in the body allows viruses/bacteria/infections to thrive and leaves the body more susceptible to disease. Reducing/eliminating sugar from your child’s diet will have positive effects in all the bodily systems. Change their eating habits today.

 

 

 

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