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 Nutrition And Dental Health 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Integrative Dentistry by . View all columns in series
You may ask, what possible connection could there be between nutrition and dental health? You may have thought just brushing and flossing was all it took for healthy teeth and gums. Although poor hygiene plays a major role in the development of gum disease and tooth decay, an extremely important secondary factor is diet and nutrition.

In the 1920s and '30s, a dentist by the name of Westen Price studied the relationship between diet and tooth decay. His study compared a modernized community in Switzerland with a more traditional one. In the traditional community life was simple: cultural and spiritual values were highly appreciated and practiced, and there were no police or jails. The people’s diet included whole grains harvested locally in the valley, and fresh milk and cheese from their own goats and cows. Dr. Price found in his tests that the soil was rich in vitamins and minerals.

Dr. Price conducted dental surveys of this region and found children between the ages of seven and sixteen had 0.3 cavities per person. In other words, one out of three children had 1 cavity, and two out of three had no cavities! Dr. Price found totally different results in a more modern community. These children, with diets rich in refined flour and sugar, had 20.2 cavities per child. Another community had some foods purchased, but home-grown foods were consumed more frequently. The children in this community had an average of 2.3 cavities per 100 teeth, a little less than 1 cavity per person.

Most of our communities today have an overabundance of fast food restaurants. Most of our supermarkets have shelves filled to capacity with "processed foods". These "processed foods" are those made with synthetic chemicals for purpose of improving either taste, appearance, or shelf life. The sacrifice for these so called improvements is the lack of vial nutrients, but high in refined flour and sugar.

Bacteria in the mouth use sugars - sugar, molasses, honey, corn sweeteners, and corn syrups – for energy and to reproduce. When hygiene is poor and the diet is high in sugars, more bacteria is produced, causing an increase in the amount of plaque formed. Bacteria may not respond in the same way to artificial sweeteners such as saccharin or Nutrasweet; however, these artificial sweeteners may be carcinogenic. There is no evidence that the use of chemical sweeteners effectively reduces weight.

The same laws that govern health of the rest of the body have the same affect on the oral cavity. For example, vitamins are essential to life. Since adequate amounts of vitamins cannot be manufactured within the body, we must get vitamins from foods or supplements. However, even if we do take supplements, proper absorption through the digestion-elimination process is essential. Most digestion takes place in the small intestine; the health and variety of intestinal bacteria are the basis of its efficiency. Yogurt creates the slightly acid environment in which intestinal bacteria thrive. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, which improves the digestion by adding bulk.

A high-meat, low complex carbohydrate diet often causes constipation followed by bouts of diarrhea. This results in a sluggish colon, with the excess protein accelerating water loss, and eventually a diminished supply of beneficial intestinal bacteria. The accelerated water loss, if not replenished, will cause more plaque build up in the oral cavity as well.

Certain drugs can also affect digestion, and vice versa. For example, tetracycline binds with calcium. Its effectiveness is decreased when taken with milk. However, this antibiotic causes nausea in some people, and unless informed they will take it with milk. The nausea is alleviated because the calcium in the milk is binding the antibiotic. Of course, if the antibiotic is bound to calcium, it is not free to fight the infection.

Some drugs interfere with the absorption of vitamins. Some are over-the-counter and others are prescription only. Alcohol depletes the body of B complex, magnesium and other mineral losses. Tobacco may cause Vitamin C deficiency by reducing the production and utilization of this vitamin. Oral contraceptives reduce the production and absorption of folic acid, B6 and B12.

While many vitamins and minerals are important for health and prevention of disease, emphasis should be placed on some more than others for the health of the teeth and gums. Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth and is the most abundant mineral in the body, with 99% of it concentrated in the bones and teeth. It's important to note that calcium absorption and utilization require vitamins A, C, and D. Vitamin A is very important for construction of tooth enamel, and vitamin C produces collagen, which help cells build their tissue structures. It's also vital to know that increases in protein reduce the amount of calcium that is reabsorbed from the kidney, promoting loss of calcium form the urine. Deficiency in calcium causes muscle pain, leg cramps, weak, malformed bones and teeth, cavities, gum disease, osteoporosis, nervousness, and irritability. Approximately 1200 to 1800 mg daily is suggested to prevent calcium deficiency.

To prevent periodontal (gum) disease, Co-enzyme Q10 is essential. It promotes circulation and reattachment of collagen fibers connecting the tooth to the supporting structures of gum and bone. For prevention, 30 mg daily, or 60 mg if periodontal disease exists.

In the fast pace of life we live in today, time management is the determining factor for how we live our lives. Make the commitment today to change your eating habits from whatever tastes good, no matter the consequences, to a healthier mindset of what is actually good for you. You'll be surprised at how quickly your body will adjust and will no longer crave the high sugar and other foods that you know are not good for you.

      
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 About The Author
Flora Stay, DDS holds a doctor of dental surgery degree from University of California, San Francisco. She is the founder of ...moreFlora Stay DDS
 
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