More and more people are becoming increasingly interested not only in their appearance, but also in their health. This has led to an increase in the use of nutritional terms, with the most popular trend at the moment being to count the ‘macros’ in our diets. But what impact do macros have upon our oral health?
What are macros?
Macros are a shorter way of saying macronutrients which are namely carbohydrates, protein and fat. When considering your oral health, the most important macronutrient to look at is carbohydrates as they start their digestion from the moment you put them in your mouth! Even though carbohydrates are a vital source of energy for cells including muscle and brain cells, they can cause tooth decay.
So, which carbohydrates cause tooth decay?
Carbohydrates are divided into two categories: starches and sugars. However, there are further category of ‘free sugars’ and ‘milk sugars’ which are important to consider when talking about oral health.
Free sugars, or simple sugars, are sugars that are added by either a manufacturer or a cook, and it’s also those sugars found in honey, syrups and fruit juices. The body is only able to absorb simple sugars, so those that are more complex, such as starches, need to be split or broken down by the body, in order for them to be absorbed and used as an energy source. Foods that already contain simple sugars start the digestion process in the mouth, and certain bacteria in the mouth use these sugars to produce acids, which leads to minerals within the teeth being dissolved.
The longer a carbohydrate is present in the mouth, the more time the bacteria have to produce acid, leading to an increase in demineralisation (the process by which acid produced leads to a loss of calcium and phosphate from the enamel). Drinking sugary drinks throughout the day, such as soft drinks or sugary coffee, or by grazing on high sugar snacks and sweets, provides the bacteria in the mouth with enough sugar to almost constantly produce acid, making tooth decay a likely outcome. In particular, sticky sweets should be avoided to prevent tooth decay.
An important fact to consider, in terms of oral health, is not the amount of sugar but the timing of consumption. By eating sweets or drinking sugary drinks with meals, this slows down the digestion of free sugars in the mouth, and it also lessens the amount of time throughout the day that the teeth are exposed to free sugars.
Are there any foods that actually help to protect against tooth decay?
Research has shown that milk, cheese and yoghurt can protect your teeth against tooth decay as they contain minerals, such as calcium, which help to protect tooth enamel.
Lactose, which is found in milk, has been found to have very little effect on tooth decay and as milk contains calcium, phosphorus and casein, it actually has a protective effect against tooth decay.
What should I do to help protect my teeth against tooth decay?
Physically, you should:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day
- Floss on a regular basis
- Have a six-monthly check-up with your dentist.
In nutritional terms, you should:
- Avoid consuming foods that have a high level of added or simple sugars, including fruit juices
- Lessen the length of time that these sugars are exposed to the teeth as much as possible and limit sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes
- Ensure that you consume three portions of dairy foods each day such as milk with cereal at breakfast or a glass of milk, yogurt or cheese for a snack, or cheese with your lunch or evening meal.
About the author
Sarah has ten years’ experience working as a nutritionist and is qualified in both ‘Food, Nutrition and Health’ and ‘Human Weight Management.’ Sarah now works as a private consultant, having also written reports for the Government (Isle of Man) on improving primary school meals. For further advice on nutrition or weigh management, you can contact Sarah by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org