The importance of maintaining good dental health

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As the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract, the mouth starts the digestive system’s functions, so it is not surprising that nutrition and oral health are closely linked. When it comes to oral health and the teeth, nutrition is both protective and preventive. Good nutrition promotes maintenance of the mouth and teeth by mitigating the negative influences of food on teeth, where plaque can accumulate.

Dental decay can be caused by many things:
Acids on teeth: When people consume carbohydrates, acids are released that can damage teeth. The more often people eat carb-containing foods, the greater the potential damage to tooth enamel.  In other words, frequency of exposure to carb-containing foods is worse than amount of exposure.  Each exposure causes a 20-minute acid attack that may cause tooth decay.

Food characteristics: “Sticky” foods, or cooked starches, have the tendency to stick to teeth, even though they are not necessarily sticky in nature. For example, chips and crackers fall into this category.

Slow-dissolving foods: Foods that take a long time to dissolve and therefore remain in the mouth for a long period of time can cause acids to destroy enamel. Again, this is slightly counter-intuitive, as cookies and granola bars fall into this category.

Meal time: When you eat foods as part of a meal, rather than consume them separately, it produces less acid. Your saliva production increases when you eat a meal, and this neutralizes acid production and clears food from the mouth.

Additionally, water, especially tap water or bottled water with added fluoride, neutralizes acids, strengthens enamel and washes food out of the mouth.

Promoting good oral health is a very important part of overall health. Periodontal disease is linked to several health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Tooth decay can be prevented with good oral hygiene, which includes:

•Using fluoride toothpastes

•Drinking water containing fluoride

•Receiving regular dental care for prevention and treatment

•Eating limited amounts of sugary foods

•Brushing and flossing daily to remove plaque

For more information, please contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service.

Source: Deborah Murray, associate director, Health Education through Extension Leadership,    Joanna Aalboe, research faculty member in the UK College of Dentistry

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.