Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma, are there any foods that I could include in my diet that may protect my teeth and improve my overall dental health? Thanks, Gavin from Ellenbrook (WA)
If you're over 16 years old, the crowns of all your permanent teeth have already formed. So, good dental health is more about what you don't eat.
It's important to avoid frequent exposure to sugar, more specifically fermentable carbohydrates, (glucose, fructose, and sucrose). The more often you eat or drink sugar, the higher your risk of dental decay is. Keeping acidic things to a minimum is also important, as anything with a pH lower than 5.5 will start to erode your enamel.
Having said that, there are some things you can include in your diet that will help your teeth stay healthy. It won't make any difference though if you're working your way through four litres of soft drink every day!
Drinking fluoridated water, and eating foods prepared with fluoridated water will lower your decay risk. When fluoride comes in contact with your teeth, it is incorporated into the top layer of enamel making it harder to dissolve and decay. Don't make drinking bottled water a regular thing, as unlike tap water it has no fluoride. If you want to filter your tap water to make it taste better, don't use a reverse osmosis filter which will take the fluoride out.
Casein is milk protein, and it's fantastic at protecting teeth from decay. Munching on mature, hard cheese is the best way to get it in contact with your teeth. There's plenty of casein in milk as well, but the protective effects are somewhat counteracted by the sugar in milk, lactose.
Supplement your saliva
I went into detail about the importance of saliva in a previous article. You can make sure you have plenty of saliva by staying well hydrated. It's not all about quantity though, the quality of your saliva also matters. Deficiencies in vitamin A, zinc, and iron are linked to poor saliva composition. Liver, carrots and broccoli are rich in vitamin A, while red meat is a good source of zinc and iron.
If you've got small people in your life, you can look out for their teeth by looking after their nutrition. Formation of the first baby teeth starts at just 14 weeks in-utero. The last teeth to form are the wisdom teeth, the crowns of which aren't completed until around 16 years old. Teeth need calcium, phosphorous, vitamin A, vitamin D, and plenty of energy and protein to form properly. If the building blocks for teeth aren't present, malformed or "hypoplastic" enamel can result, which is discoloured, weak, and susceptible to decay.
So in summary, eating a healthy balanced diet is not only good for your body, it's good for your teeth. Keep sugar and acids to a minimum, make tap water your drink of choice, and break out the cheese platter after dinner.