S Vidhya from Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu recalls, a year ago her five-year-old daughter, Yuva Mitra S would throw tantrums while eating. She often complained of toothaches and refused to chew the food properly.
A visit to the dentist revealed that the child had cavities in six of her teeth. “The dentist said unregulated consumption of chocolates and biscuits could be the reason for these cavities; drinking milk with sugar at night had added to the problem,” says Vidhya.
The dentist cleaned the cavities and filled them but warned, “Albeit milk teeth will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth in six years, untreated cavities could spread to permanent teeth, solidifying the problem,” she adds.
The dentist advised Vidhya to give fruits and steamed vegetables to her daughter instead of sticky foods and chocolates. Following these changes, Mitra has recovered from the cavities and continues to maintain good oral health by brushing at least twice daily.
Food-prints on your teeth
Sugary foods act like catalysts for the harmful acid-producing bacteria in our mouths. These acids break down the structure of the enamel (thin outer covering protecting the teeth), making the teeth prone to cavities and erosion.
To appease the sweet tooth, Vidhyapriya Rajagopalan, nutritionist from Bengaluru, suggests eating fresh whole fruits like sapota, pineapple, apple, banana, pomegranate, figs, and dates, but to avoid the sugar-coated ones.
Calcium plays a significant role when it comes to food and strong teeth. Dr Ra Sangavi, dentist from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, explains that calcium is necessary for various functions like the formation and maintenance of healthy jaw bones and teeth. “Consuming calcium-rich foods strengthens the enamel and dentin, the hard, mineralised tissue that makes up our teeth,” she says.
Moreover, phosphorus is a good neutraliser of the acid in the mouth thereby preventing damage to teeth, says Dr Sangavi. “Phosphorus along with calcium form hydroxyapatite crystals, a primary mineral component present in enamel,” she adds.
Therefore, phosphorus helps in the formation and maintenance of strong teeth. It is present in meat, poultry, nuts, legumes, fish and eggs that help maintain good oral health.
Experts say that vitamin A is another necessary nutrient for the functioning of the mucous membrane (soft tissue covering) present over the gums, lips, and cheeks. It acts as a barrier against infections and dry mouth.
Rajagopalan says, “Vitamin A helps keep saliva flowing, which naturally cleanses teeth of damaging acids and prevents dry mouth.” She recommends adding orange-coloured fruits like oranges, mangoes, papayas, and vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, methi, spinach, bell peppers, and fish, and egg yolks to get the required amount of vitamin A.
Saliva is essential for keeping the mouth moist. Dry mouth can cause bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. When one is hydrated, the body produces enough saliva to wash away food particles and harmful bacteria stuck in the teeth.
Rajagopalan says that the fibre in green leafy vegetables, fruits and whole cereals improves the saliva production. “They stimulate blood flow to the teeth and gums, preventing oral bacterial action,” she adds.
“Chewing fibrous food aids in the mechanical cleansing of teeth and gums and maintains oral health,” says Dr Sangavi.
Read more about tooth erosion here.
A bite of prevention
“Collagen is an essential component that provides structural support to the gums and helps keep them firm and healthy,” says Dr Sangavi. She adds that vitamin C plays a crucial role in collagen production.
Although it is necessary for repairing and regenerating damaged gum tissue, vitamin C cannot fully regenerate gums on its own. However, including it in the diet can support gum health and aid in the body’s natural healing process.
Rajagopalan cautions that frequent consumption of acidic food and beverages can increase the risk of tooth erosion. Thus, the right way to consume citrus fruits is to either eat them whole or water down the juices.
She insists on avoiding sugar in the juices as these simple sugars combine with bacteria and saliva to create plaque that eventually leads to cavities.
Read more about citrus fruit here.
Experts say that vitamin D regulates the immune system and fights against the bacteria causing gum infections. Long-term inflammation results in gum disease and other oral health issues. The anti-inflammatory properties present in vitamin D-rich foods aid in reducing gum inflammation, thereby decreasing the severity of gum diseases.
While foods naturally containing vitamin D are rare, Rajagopalan directs us to consume oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and cod liver oil to meet the requirements.
“Drumstick leaves, agathi leaves, sesame seeds (til), milk, cheese and cumin seeds are some of the nutrients rich food sources to add to one’s diet for maintaining optimal oral health,” she says.