Every now and then, I have patients come into my office who haven’t received any dental care for a long period of time – sometimes even decades. It is always fascinating to me the amount of variety that I see in these exams. Many times, of course, the patient has several cavities, and may even need more extensive dental work like extractions, root canals, or crowns. This is what we would expect from years of neglect, and it usually comes as no surprise to us or the patient. In these cases, we simply do our best to start where we are and fix what we can.
But sometimes we see something different entirely. Every once in a while, I will have a patient who has not been seen in a while and yet has perfect teeth and gums. These cases are interesting precisely because they defy normal expectations. The million dollar question then becomes, what is it that sets these patients apart from the normal population?
I cannot claim to have a single answer to that question (If I could, then I would be a rich man). There are a lot of factors to take into account and numerous circumstances which make it difficult, if not impossible, to really get to the bottom of things. One factor that is consistent in almost all of these patients, however, is DIET. And I’m not just talking about avoiding sugar. Many dentists seem to talk endlessly about the things we should not eat and they are right, but I think that there is a whole other half of the equation that needs to be addressed with greater emphasis. That is, what SHOULD we be eating to keep our mouths happy?
The best food choices for the health of your mouth include cheeses, chicken or other meats, nuts, and milk. These foods have the potential to protect tooth enamel (the hard, outer layer of the tooth) by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to repair it when damaged by acids. This natural process is known as “remineralization,” and if it happens regularly enough, then the tooth may never develop any full-blown cavities.
Other food choices include firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) and vegetables. These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. They also stimulate the flow of saliva, which washes away food particles and buffers acid in your mouth. For this same reason, it is important to make sure you stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water or other sugar-free beverages of your choice.
It is undeniable that diet plays a huge role in dental health. Of course, we should also be brushing and flossing, and regularly seeing the dentist, but all of this is really just part of a healthy lifestyle in which diet plays a foundational role. So the next time you need a snack, grab an apple and a glass of milk. I promise – your teeth with thank you for the favor.