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The Impact of Nutrition on Oral Health
Poor oral health can affect our appearance and self-esteem, and has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioural and developmental problems in children. Poor oral health can also affect our ability to chew and digest food properly. Maintaining good oral health involves keeping our teeth free of cavities and preventing gum disease.
What are dental cavities and gum disease and their resulting health implications? Dental cavities are a result of tooth decay. Signs of decay include discolouration or erosion around the crown or root of a tooth. In infants, there is a form of tooth decay known as baby bottle syndrome. This results when a baby falls asleep with a sugar-filled juice bottle in his mouth. The sugars combine with plaque to promote bacterial growth that eats away at the surface of the teeth and then causes decay.
Plaque is sticky deposits of bacteria, mucus and food particles that adheres to the teeth. The accumulation of plaque causes the gums to become infected and swollen. As the gums swell (gum disease i.e. gingivitis), pockets form between the gums and the teeth then act as a trap for more plaque. Gingivitis eventually can result in the erosion of the bone that supports the teeth.
Cavities and gum disease contributes to many serious conditions, such as diabetes (people with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications), respiratory disease (the bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions), heart disease and women delivering pre-term, low birth rate babies. Babies who are pre-term or low birth weight have a higher risk of developmental complications, asthma, ear infections, birth abnormalities, behavioural difficulties and are at a higher risk of infant death.
What factors contribute to oral health? Genetics, diet and dental hygiene all contribute to the health of the teeth. Children born to parents who have poor teeth are more susceptible to cavities. So are children who consume foods and drinks that are high in refined sugars and starches (breads, pasta and baked goods), sweetened carbonated or non-carbonated drinks and acidic foods. These provide a food source for bacteria, which produces the tooth-damaging acid, contributes to plaque build-up and inhibits the ability of the white blood cells to fight off bacteria. A child’s diet should focus on vegetables, legumes (green peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans), whole grains and healthy protein sources.
Dr. Weston Price explained the link between insufficient fat-soluble vitamins and the high incidence of cavities and the need for braces, due to crooked teeth and tooth crowding, in his groundbreaking book called “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration“. Prior generations, who were raised on healthy nutrient-rich diets, did not have any of these oral challenges. Many minerals and vitamins improve oral health. Folic acid, calcium and magnesium encourage proper dental development. Vitamin C increases the absorption of the calcium and magnesium and reduces inflammation of the gums. Bleeding gums may signal a vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin A contributes to the general good health of the gums and is needed for healthy tooth development in children. Deficiencies of vitamin A, as well as vitamin D, and inadequate protein consumption negatively impact the health of tooth enamel and saliva, by lowering the mouth’s defenses against infection and by buffering plaque-forming acids. Zinc increases antioxidant activity and inhibits the growth of plaque.
In terms of dental hygiene, children need to brush their teeth at lease twice a day and floss. Electric toothbrushes do help remove plaque better than manual toothbrushes. Children need a proper cleaning by a dental hygienist every six months. If fillings are needed, white composites are the healthiest option. Mercury fillings are damaging to the nervous and immune systems.
Lastly, in a previous post, I wrote about the importance of ensuring we each receive enough good bacteria. Antibiotics, drugs in general, chlorine and other chemicals, processed foods and sugar are only some of the factors that deplete the body of good bacteria. Too much bad bacteria contributes greatly to poor oral health and you now know that poor oral health negatively affects the health of the entire body.
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Until next time,
Sources: Your Vital Child by Mark and Angela Stengler, N.D.s
Pathology and Nutrition by Lileana Stadler Mitrea
Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyliss A. Balch, CNC
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price