“Scientific and epidemiological data suggest a lifelong synergy between diet, nutrition, and integrity of the oral cavity in health and disease” (Touger-Decker & Mobley, 2013). A prevalent example of this statement is the relationship between dental caries and the foods we eat. Dental caries are more commonly known as tooth decay or “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” in infants. Although dental caries are the most common among children, it is estimated that 31.6% of American adults also face untreated tooth decay (FastStats, 2019).
The Breakdown of Tooth Enamel:
Dental caries can occur in individuals of all ages. However, people that suffer from low income, lack of knowledge/education, limited access to medical care, and malnutrition are especially at risk. The development of dental caries starts when a tooth’s enamel is vulnerable. Bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans then processes the carbohydrates we eat and creates an acidic byproduct that dissolves the tooth’s outer layer of protection (Mahan & Raymond, 2017).
The 4 Cariogenic Factors of Food:
The term cariogenic refers to foods “…that contain fermentable carbohydrates, which, when in contact with microorganisms in the mouth, can cause a drop in salivary pH …and stimulate the caries process” (Mahan & Raymond, 2017). Grains, fruit, and dairy are the primary food groups that contain fermentable carbohydrates and may be cariogenic. Although the following four factors influence just how cariogenic these foods can be.
The cariogenicity of a food increases the longer the mouth is exposed to fermentable carbohydrates (Mahan & Raymond, 2017). For example, starchy foods such as chips, pastries, and hard candies are considered especially cariogenic. When these foods are consumed, they often stick in between or on the teeth for an extended period. This is one of the reasons why parents should not place infants to bed with bottles filled with juice or formula.
Form/Consistency of Food:
The consistency of a food, such as a solid versus a liquid, affects how long the teeth are exposed to acidic activity. Liquid foods are consumed and swallowed rather quickly in comparison to solids. Thus, liquids tend to adhere less to the teeth and are sometimes less cariogenic. In addition, sticky foods like taffy are more likely to stay in the mouth than hard, fibrous foods such as raw vegetables (Mahan & Raymond, 2017).
Foods that are high in protein, dietary fiber, and fat are often not as cariogenic. It is currently recommended to consume a good source of protein when eating a carbohydrate-rich snack to assist in buffering the snack’s cariogenic affects. Even though dairy foods can be cariogenic, “evidence suggests that cheese and milk…can help to buffer the acid pH produced by cariogenic foods” (Mahan & Raymond, 2017). In addition to fat and protein, dairy foods are rich in calcium and phosphorus, which aids in the remineralization process of tooth enamel.
Frequency of Eating:
How often we eat in a day can be an indicator of how many chances dental caries have to develop. Someone who binge eats between meals or eats multiple snacks allows cariogenic foods more opportunities to lower the mouth’s pH and initiate tooth decay. According to Mahan & Raymond (2017), “every time a fermentable carbohydrate is consumed, a decline in pH is initiated within 5-15 minutes…”.
Tips for Terrific Teeth:
- Avoid starchy, sticky foods or try to combine them with a non-sugary food groups such as proteins, fats, or vegetables.
- Consume dairy foods, they are rich in calcium and phosphorous, which are beneficial for dental health.
- Resist frequent snacking between meals and always try to brush afterwards. If not possible, rinsing with water is the next best option.
- Opt for fibrous, low cariogenic snacks such as popcorn, raw vegetables, and nuts.
- Avoid excessive bottle use in infants with juice and formula.
- Always practice good hygiene: use fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and attend regular dental appointments.
1. FastStats -Oral and Dental Health. (2019, December 04). Retrieved September 19, 2020, fromhttps://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm
2. Hygiene-related Diseases. (2016, September 22). Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html
3. Mahan, L. K., & Raymond, J. L. (2017). Nutrition for Oral and Dental Health. In Krause’s Food & The Nutrition Care Process (14th ed., pp. 468-477). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
4. Touger-Decker, R., & Mobley, C. (2013). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Oral Health and Nutrition. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(5), 693-701.doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.03.001
5. Wolfram, T. (2018, July 11). Healthy Nutrition for Healthy Teeth. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/healthy-nutrition-for-healthyteeth
Becky Roberts graduated Magma Cum Laude with a B.S in Nutrition from Cal Poly Pomona in 2019. She completed the Spanish language dietetics program, Estudiante de Dietética, there as well. Becky graduated from the Nutrition Ink Dietetic Internship Program during Summer 2020 and is currently studying to take the Registered Dietitian Exam. She aspires to become a Clinical RD and work with individuals struggling with obesity or developmental disabilities. She is currently a regular guest speaker/contributor to the community nonprofit weight loss support group, TOPS-Taking Off Pounds Sensibly. “During my senior year at Cal Poly, I was honored to have Dr. Sangeeta Shrivastava as my Community Nutrition professor. Dr Sangeeta Shrivastava’s knowledge and compassion for nutrition serve as an inspiration to me and all those she teaches”.