Nutrition and Oral Health: Making the Connection
How does the mouth relate to good health? The mouth is the entry point for food and the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract. The ability to chew and swallow is a critical function required to obtain essential nutrients for the body, the building blocks of good health. The links between oral health and nutrition are many. Thus, oral health plays an integral role in assuring adequate nutritional status.1Interestingly, oral health and nutrition share an interdependent and sometimes antagonistic relationship. By promoting healthy development and maintenance of the mouth's tissues and natural protective mechanisms, good nutrition promotes good oral health. In contrast, certain foods can cause plaque development increasing the risk for oral disease. How the foods are eaten can stimulate saliva flow, reducing the risk. The interactions are complex, with food and nutrition having the potential for both positive and negative effects on oral health.In addition, the mouth serves as a window for the skilled dental practitioner to view overall health status. The regular dental examination makes it possible for your dentist to check for gum disease as well as precancerous or cancerous lesions. More sophisticated screening mechanisms can produce early warnings of stroke by displaying calcifications in the corotid artery, or chemotherapy-induced weakening of the jaw.2Taking care the mouth is an important step on the road to good health. Good eating habits, regularbrushing, flossing and fluoride are all part of maintaining good health.Oral Health â€œ What Causes Dental Caries?Caries (often referred to as tooth decay or cavities) is a bacterial disease that is caused or hindered by many interacting factors Ã¢â‚¬â€œ bacteria, saliva flow, minerals, fluoride in water supply or dentifrices, the properties of the food eaten, frequency of eating, dental care and dental hygiene.For many years, the primary focus of oral health care has been the prevention of cavities in children with an emphasis on dietary influences on caries formation. With evolving science, specific foods no longer are being singled out as major or risk factors for caries. In today's world, however, prevention focuses on fluoride, use of sealants, frequency of eating, and good oral hygiene.All these factors interact by encouraging or discouraging the cariogenic bacteria that cause progressive destruction of tooth enamel, known as demineralization. Plaque is an almost invisible deposit of bacteria and their byproducts that constantly forms on everyone's teeth. The bacteria in plaque use carbohydrates to produce acids that can attack tooth enamel. The decaying action of the plaque bacteria depends on its ability to adhere to tooth surfaces and to hold acids on the teeth. After many such attacks, the tooth enamel may break down, forming a cavity.3The Role of SalivaSaliva has a powerful, protective role in the oral cavity where it preserves the integrity of the soft tissues and increases the caries resistance of the dental tissues. Minerals in saliva, such as phosphorus and calcium, also play a role in helping to reform the tooth enamel, a process known as remineralization. The mechanisms of repair are not well understood and are being actively studied. Fluoride in the mouth enhances saliva's role in the remineralization process. Additionally, saliva contains other substances that serve as buffers to neutralize the acid created by bacteria. Saliva also works to help remove food particles from the mouth.In effect, saliva is to tooth enamel what blood is to the cells of the body. Just as body cells depend on the blood stream to supply nutrients, remove waste and protect the cells, enamel depends on saliva to perform similar functions.4Eating HabitsSugars (fruit sugar, milk sugar and table sugar) and cooked starches (cookies and bread, etc.), known as fermentable carbohydrates, are the only foods that can impact...
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