Having a great smile does more than just improve your looks: it can reveal a lot about your overall health.
Many dental diseases, such as periodontal (gum) disease, are linked to an increased risk of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and stroke, explains Michael P. Donner, DDS, of Rockdale, Texas, co-author of The Oral Health Bible (Basic Health Publications, 2003).
As if that weren’t enough, chronic tooth and jaw pain and bleeding gums discourage good eating habits. When chewing food hurts, you’re more likely to shortchange yourself of the nutrients healthy teeth and periodontal tissues need.
Many people use topical teeth whiteners to cosmetically improve the appearance of their teeth. But dental health has to be more than enamel deep: focus on diet, supplements, and some time-tested dental-hygiene habits.
Diet for a Healthy Mouth
Wholesome foods provide the many nutrients–vitamins, minerals, protein, and good fats–needed for healthy teeth and gums.
Eat more fruit and veggies. The proverb “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” actually applies to most fruits and vegetables. These foods are supplied with a cornucopia of antioxidants, including vitamin C and polyphenolic flavonoids. Some flavonoids, such as those found in unsweetened cranberry juice, discourage cavity-causing bacteria from adhering to teeth. Other fruits such as raspberries and blueberries may have similar benefits.
Eat quality protein. Teeth are similar to bone in composition and require more han just calcium for strength. Indeed, bone-thinning osteoporosis and dental diseases frequently go hand in hand. Teeth consist of a matrix of protein and numerous minerals, including magnesium and boron. Vitamins C, B12, and K are needed to catalyze enzymatic reactions necessary to form the bone matrix.
Consume healthy beverages. Many brands of sparkling mineral water are rich in calcium and magnesium; European brands typically list mineral levels on the label. Clinical studies have found that these minerals are readily absorbed. If mineral waters taste a bit flat to you, add a wedge of lemon or lime for flavour. In addition, drink some green and black tea, iced or hot. A recent study at the University of Illinois College of Dentistry in Chicago found that these teas slow the growth of oral bacteria involved in dental infections and bad breath.
Cut back on sugars and starches. The typical Canadian now consumes 23 teaspoons (92 grams) of refined sugar every day. Sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup are added to nearly all processed foods. Soft drinks are among the worst offenders, with a typical half-gallon (two-litre) bottle containing about one-half cup (125 mL) of sugars. These sugars form a thin film on the teeth, providing an ideal breeding ground for cavity-causing bacteria. Refined starches, such as those used to make pasta, bread, and muffins, aren’t much better than sugars.
Supplements for Dental Health
Periodontal disease, affecting the soft tissues at the base of teeth, is the cause of most tooth loss. Many dietary supplements can help maintain or restore healthy periodontal tissues.
Vitamin C: Studies going back decades show that higher intake of vitamin C reduces tooth mobility, a sign of gum disease. The vitamin also has impressive anti-inflammatory properties, important when dealing with gingivitis (an inflammation of the upper part of the gums).
The amount of vitamin C makes a big difference. A study conducted at the State University of New York, Buffalo, found that people who consumed 180 mg of vitamin C daily were far less likely to develop gingivitis, compared with those taking only 60 mg daily. Vitamin C is needed to form collagen, one of the key proteins in periodontal tissues. Flavonoids will likely enhance the benefits of vitamin C.
Coenzyme Q10: Several small studies have found that the topical application of CoQ10, a vitamin-like nutrient, can reduce the depth of infected “pockets” along the sides of teeth. CoQ10 may boost the immune system’s ability to fight bacteria in these pockets.
As an adjunct, consider combining CoQ10 with non-surgical root scaling and topical application of antimicrobial compounds in regular dental checkups.
Dosage: Break open a CoQ10 soft-gel capsule and rub its contents on your gums. Swallow the remainder of the capsule.
Antioxidant cocktail: In addition to vitamin C and CoQ10, a multi-antioxidant supplement may have substantial benefits in preventing or reducing dental disease. In one study, researchers found that a combination of vitamin E and selenium reduced damage to periodontal tissues. Both nutrients likely work by combating tissue-damaging molecules called free radicals.
Considerable research indicates that free radicals may account for much of the pain in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction (a condition involving pain in the jaw and surrounding tissues and limitations in jaw movements). A multi-antioxidant supplement combined with glucosamine and chrondroitin supplements may effectively reduce TMJ pain. The antioxidants should also control free radicals produced by hydrogen peroxide, the active ingredient in commercial tooth whiteners.
Dosage: Follow label directions on a multi-antioxidant supplement containing vitamins E and C, selenium, CoQ10, and other antioxidants.
Minerals: The loss of bone in teeth, often from periodontal disease, is strongly associated with osteoporosis, suggesting that a vitamin-mineral supplement designed for osteoporosis may be of benefit. It should contain calcium, vitamin D (to enhance calcium absorption), magnesium, boron, silicon, and vitamins C, B12, and K.
Dosage: Because formulas vary, follow label directions.
Although good nutrition provides the foundation for healthy teeth and gums, don’t overlook the basics of daily dental care.
Flossing: Use dental floss or dental tape each night to remove food particles from between the teeth.
Brushing: At one time, electric toothbrushes were considered little more than an expensive indulgence. But research has shown that electric toothbrushes, when properly used, can remove far more bacterial plaque than regular brushes. Remember to replace the brush heads every three to six months, though.
Water-jet irrigation: Use a water-jet irrigator each day to spray water under your gum line, dislodging bacteria where floss and brushing typically can’t reach. Dissolving 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of salt per cup of warm water helps break up bacterial plaque before it hardens into tartar.
Amalgams: The American Dental Association has steadfastly defended the use of mercury amalgams, ignoring the fact that we have known for more than 100 years that the metal is highly toxic and can cause brain and nerve damage. Most dentists are willing to use non-mercury amalgams to fill cavities.
Dental health can be improved with a healthy diet and good dental-hygiene habits.
The Saliva Solution
Saliva plays an important role in dental health.
A dry mouth makes eating difficult and also increases the risk of oral infections, according to a recent article by Peter Lingstr?PhD, and Paula Moynihan, PhD, in the journal Nutrition.
Saliva is rich in calcium and phosphorus, which helps teeth remineralize and repair microscopic cavities.
Inadequate intake of either calcium or protein can impair the function of salivary glands and reduce secretion of saliva.
Other important minerals include zinc and iron.
Healthy saliva is slightly alkaline, so it buffers acids in some foods.