It’s well known that you need to brush and floss your teeth daily and visit the dentist every six months to keep your teeth healthy, but did you know your own general health can also affect the health of your teeth?
Achieving and maintaining healthy teeth and gums involves multi-faceted care. Let’s take a look at some of the things you might not have realised are affecting your teeth.
Sweet tooth: the sugar factor
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is one of the biggest keys to your overall health, both for your body and your teeth. For a long time it has been well known that sugar causes cavities, but it’s now becoming apparent that it’s actually quite bad for your general health on the whole. In fact, Nutrition Australia this year moved to remove sugar from the healthy eating pyramid entirely. The World Health Organisation has also acknowledged this and this year made a recommendation that adults and children both aim to reduce their daily intake of “free sugars” to less than 10% of their daily energy intake. It’s even suggested that a reduction to less than 5%, or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide even further health benefits.
What are free sugars?
Basically speaking, free sugars are sugars such as sucrose, fructose and glucose – including honey, syrup, fruit juice, concentrates and common sugar – which are added to foods and drinks by the person making it, or the manufacturer. Sugars that occur naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables and in milk (lactose) are not included in this as there are no reported adverse effects.
How much is 25g of sugar?
In our modern world which is full of “free sugars”, 25g isn’t much. In one 350mL can of Coca Cola there’s about 40 grams, a 350mL serving of apple juice is nearly as bad at 39 grams, while a 750mL bottle of Powerade Isotonic is hiding 45 grams, and just a single tablespoon of tomato sauce packs in about a teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar. Yikes!
The acid factor
You wouldn’t knowingly rub acid into your teeth, would you? But you may well be doing it on a daily basis without even realising it.
Sugar is part of a group of acidic foods which, if left on your teeth, can cause decay. Other acidic foods include citrus fruits, salad dressings and alcoholic beverages like spirits and wine. No, they aren’t battery acid, but they can affect your oral health. The acids present in these foods cause the enamel on your teeth to soften. If you were to then brush your teeth immediately afterwards to try to eliminate the acid, you would actually then be brushing away the enamel which is there to protect your teeth. Instead, it’s best to wait at least 30 minutes after eating an acidic food before brushing. This gives your saliva enough time to neutralise the acid and help your teeth to harden again.
Cutting down on sugar
If you’re looking to reduce the free sugars in your diet so as to reduce the adverse effects on both your teeth and your general health, the easiest way to do this is to stop eating packaged foods. When you cook your own meals, you can be very sure of exactly what has gone into your food, making it easier to control your intake. Of course, it’s not always easy to prepare your own meal though. When you need to eat packaged foods, consult the nutritional information and choose those with a lower sugar content. Of course, you’ll also need to be sure you’re reading it properly. There’s no point looking at the sugar per serving and thinking it’s not too bad, but then actually eating three servings worth and eating three times the amount of sugar you thought you were.
If you are looking to make a reduction in sugar and your body is used to higher levels of it, it’s possible you may experience withdrawals. Believe it or not, sugar is addictive! Try to reduce your intake gradually to minimise the nasty side effects like headaches and nausea.
Are you drinking enough water?
Water is the elixir of life. Without it, our bodies and brains cannot function properly. The average adult human body is made of about 50-65% water; the brain and heart are about 73% water; the lungs are about 83% water; the skin is about 84% water; the muscles and kidneys are about 79% water; even your bones are about 31% water. Water is vital to every cell in our bodies and performs functions such as flushing out waste, regulating our body temperature, lubricating our joints and forming our saliva. As mentioned above, saliva plays an important part in our oral health by neutralising acids and helping to clear our mouths of debris. The Dieticians Association of Australia recommends adults drink about 1.5-2L of water each day, and that children drink 1-1.5L.
Make your daily water intake tap water and you’ll have the added benefits of fluoride which helps to protect your teeth against decay and repair weak spots which are at risk of becoming cavities. Win-win!
Is it time to butt out?
According to Quit.org.au, smoking is a major cause of cancers in the mouth and throat. Smoking can also cause periodontitis, and lead to gum infections and loss of the jawbone, both of which support your teeth. It also impairs the healing of your gums and bone, increases your risk of decay, and stains your teeth. In short, smoking is terrible for your teeth and your health. If you’d like help quitting smoking, talk to your health professional.
Good health and good teeth go hand in hand
As you can see, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a key part to having healthy teeth. However, it’s not a substitute for good oral hygiene! It’s essential you brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, floss daily, and visit your Excellence in Dentistry dentist every six months so any small issues can be identified and rectified before they become bigger issues.