“You are what you eat.” The meaning of that phrase is not that if you eat a donut you will become one. Instead, it’s pointing to the fact that whatever you eat – donut or otherwise – will affect your body and overall health.
In this post, we’re going to look at how American eating habits affect your dental health specifically. While cavities and gum disease are often a result of neglected dental habits (brushing and flossing), another cause of cavities is what you put in your mouth.
1. How Does What You Eat Affect Your Oral Health?
You’ve probably heard it in some form or fashion before: not all foods are great for your teeth. In fact, some foods can completely sabotage your dental health. Why? These unfriendly foods contain bacteria that easily cause cavities and tooth decay. On the other hand, there are foods that promote oral health by providing nutrients and protection.
Think of it this way: Let’s say you have a really nice car that requires a specific type of fuel. If you give it the correct fuel, it runs smoothly without a hitch. But, if you give it the wrong kind of fuel, you could be damaging it permanently.
The same is true for your mouth; what you put in it determines if it stays running in good condition. If you don’t get the right nutrients, your mouth is more susceptible to having an increased risk of cavities or periodontal disease.
Going even further, continuing to “fuel” your mouth with the wrong kinds of food can cause some serious health issues. Today’s research points to a connection between poor dental health and other serious health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
2. American Eating Habits
Most Consumed Foods
Business Insider created a chart that shows America’s 25 top sources of calories. In other words, this chart shows the food that Americans consume the most on a regular basis. Take a look at the chart below to see if you notice some patterns:
Of these foods, you will notice sources of carbohydrates, starch and sugar are listed numerous times—meaning each of those groups has a high intake rate. Unfortunately for us, these foods may taste great but they have the potential to be harmful to your teeth. Let’s take a look at how these food groups negatively affect one’s oral health.
Carbohydrates and Starches
When you eat starches and carbohydrates – in whatever form – your mouth breaks them down into simple sugars. These sugars feed harmful bacteria that create acid, which cause tooth decay over time, leading to more serious dental issues if not resolved.
Examples of Carbohydrates: Bread, Pasta, Chips, Crackers, etc.
The term “sweet tooth” is pretty ironic when you think about it. Although we like to use it as an excuse when we eat lots of sweets or candy, we often don’t think about the fact that high intakes of sugar actually damage our teeth severely. Be careful of eating too many sweets – especially if it’s hard or gooey candy that can stick to your teeth.
Examples of Sweets: Caramel, lollipops, jelly beans, etc.
Tip: Next time you eat a lot of sugar, be sure to brush your teeth afterward to protect those pearly whites.
Carbonated/Sugary Soft Drinks and Teas
Everyone has heard that soda is bad for your teeth, but that often doesn’t stop us from drinking them. Let’s take a look at the facts: most sodas have a crazy-high amount of sugar in them, as well as being carbonated.
What does that look like for your teeth? Usually people who drink soda often will end up with teeth that are…
- Stained from the syrup
- Sensitive from the carbonation (it wears on the tooth’s enamel, making it more sensitive and susceptible to tooth decay)
- Rotting from the sugar
Examples of Sugary Drinks: Various sodas, Energy Drinks, etc.
Tip: Next time you have a soda, use a straw to prevent contact with your teeth. And remember to drink water immediately after drinking soda or coffee to prevent any staining.
The Relationship between Cavities and States
A nationwide, state-level oral health survey was done by the CDC, collecting percentages of third graders who had some form of tooth decay in their life. Below are the results that were found. Is your state on the higher or lower end?
Source: Business Insider
While cavities can come from lack of dental upkeep, the dark red states may also have a high amount of cavities because of what food is consumed there. You can also take a look at this map to find out which states have the best oral health, compared to those with the worst.
If you live in a state where cavities are very common, you may want to start implementing some better dental habits, as suggested below.
3. Creating Good Eating Habits that Promote Dental Health
Instead of eating foods that harm dental health, try eating things that will ultimately boost the state of your teeth and mouth. Some examples are given below.
Photo by Gloria Garcia / CC-BY-NC-ND
Fiber Rich Foods (Fruits and Veggies)
These foods stimulate saliva flow, which naturally provides defense against cavities and decay, as well as cleans the mouth and helps naturalize acids after eating.
Examples: Apples, Carrots, Celery, etc.
Dairy products are a great source of calcium, phosphates and vitamin D. Since the tooth is made of calcium, eating these foods will help strengthen the bone and rebuild the tooth’s enamel.
Examples: Cheese, Milk (or Soy milk), Plain yogurt.
Sugarless Chewing Gum
Chewing sugarless gum after a meal helps to rinse harmful acids off teeth (protect them from decay) and some gums also help preserve a tooth’s enamel.
However, if the gum has sugar, it could help promote cavities, which is the opposite of what we’re going for!
These teas contain compounds that mix with plaque and fight off dangerous bacteria, protecting the teeth from acids that cause decay. Another thing that tea helps with is reducing inflammation and chances of gum disease.
Remember: Don’t add sugar and brush your teeth to prevent staining. (If your teeth do get stained, check out our teeth whitening guide for help.)
This information can really make you think twice about what you put inside your mouth, can’t it? We hope that this post has given you some more insight into how your eating habits can affect your dental health – either for better or for worse.
- Eating Habits around America: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-eating-habits-vary-around-america-2014-4
- States with kids with most cavities: https://www.businessinsider.com/cdc-state-cavity-map-2014-6
- Executive summary: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/SurgeonGeneral/Report/ExecutiveSummary.htm