How Nutrition Affects Oral Health, and Other Mouth-Body Connections
Caring for your overall health includes caring for your oral health.
What you eat fuels your body, providing you with energy, aiding your immune system, allowing you to perform basic but essential bodily functions, and building up fat storage—even when the latter is harmful rather than beneficial. Although it’s common knowledge that eating certain foods can harm your teeth, you might still think of your mouth as a separate part of your body.
In reality, however, it’s just as connected to the rest of your body as your stomach is; not only does your diet affect its health, but your oral health affects the rest of your body. Knowing how your mouth and body are connected can help you take better care of your overall health, so here are a few of the ways your nutrition can affect your oral health—and why keeping your mouth healthy is so vital.
Sugars and starches threaten your oral health.
Sugar is rightly considered to be a huge culprit when it comes to causing cavities, but starches, which are common in bread, chips, and pasta, are actually just as bad for your teeth—if not worse. This is because they’re easily broken down into those bacteria-fueling sugars, but they have the added disadvantage of sticking to your teeth like a long-term bacteria buffet. Drinking sugary or acidic drinks like soda throughout the day has a similar effect by providing a constant source of fuel for the bacteria and preventing your mouth from returning to a normal acidity level between meals.
As a result, it’s best for your teeth and your body as a whole if you limit how much sugar and starches you consume throughout the day. Incorporate starches and drinks like soda or juice into your meals instead of having them throughout the day as snacks, and save sugary foods for special occasions. Instead, snack on fruits or vegetables and drink water between meals to help flush food debris from your mouth and help its acidity level return to normal. It might take a little getting used to, but these changes can make a huge difference in your overall oral health.
A balanced diet builds strong teeth.
Just like a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals helps your body build strong bones and muscles, it also helps your body build strong teeth and healthy gums. A good diet should be full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and lean protein. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin D, which help form essential blood vessels to support your teeth and aids in calcium absorption. Grains contain vitamin B, iron, and magnesium, while dairy contains calcium, and protein contains phosphorus—all of which are also essential for building healthy gums as well as strong teeth and bones.
Poor oral health can make your whole body sick.
Bacteria have a nasty habit of spreading, so if you’re suffering from poor oral health, the bacteria in your mouth can actually make you sick by contributing to or directly causing infections in other parts of your body. For example, you can inhale oral bacteria into your lungs, where it can cause pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses. Periodontitis, which is a severe form of gum disease, can also lead to major illnesses because it lets bacteria into your bloodstream. While most healthy people’s immune systems can fight these invaders off before they cause bigger issues, people who are immunocompromised aren’t always able to do this. This means that the bacteria can settle elsewhere in your body, causing potentially life-threatening infections like endocarditis, which is an infection in your heart valves.
Periodontitis increases your risk of health complications.
Periodontitis isn’t just dangerous to your overall health in the short-term, however; it carries a wide range of increased health risks over the long-term as well. Since periodontitis is an infection that introduces bacteria into your bloodstream, a long-term case of it causes increased inflammation in even healthy people’s bodies. As a result, it’s been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke—oral bacteria have even been found in the brain clots of stroke patients. Although more study is needed to determine whether the bacteria was a direct cause of the stroke or simply a bystander, the link is compelling enough to make treating and preventing gum disease a priority for your overall health as well as your oral health. Additionally, periodontitis is linked to raising blood sugar levels in diabetics, and to pregnant women giving birth prematurely, which can cause a range of complications for babies.
A healthy mouth contributes to a healthy body—and vice versa.
Thankfully, maintaining your oral health is generally a simple matter of sticking to a thorough oral hygiene routine, eating a balanced diet, and visiting Dr. Sexton for a preventative appointment every six months. A good oral hygiene routine should include brushing your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day as well as flossing and using mouthwash at least once a day. There’s also evidence that habits that are healthy for your body as a whole, such as exercising regularly, are also good for your oral health. Since health problems involving your entire body can also affect your oral health, doing your best to keep both your body and mouth healthy will keep you healthier as a whole in both the short- and long-term, reducing your risk of contracting illnesses like endocarditis, heart disease, or stroke, and helping you manage your diabetes better.
Our bodies are complex, so seemingly small details like your diet or oral hygiene habits can have far-reaching consequences for your health. You certainly don’t have to cut out sugar or potato chips altogether, but being mindful about when and how much of these foods you’re consuming can have a ripple effect, improving your health in ways you may never even realize and helping you to live a longer, happier life.