“We are what we eat” is also true for our teeth

Dr Garry Mancini

If your diet is low in the nutrients your body needs, your mouth may have a more difficult time resisting infection – Says Dr Mancini.

Taking care of general health and our mouth is the key to making us smile – in your experience how aware are people about this?
It still surprises me that there are groups of people who are not dentally aware. Certain individuals fail to see the link between good general health, dental health and the psychological feelings of well-being. It is well recognised that smiling with confidence improves ones state of mind and helps us interact with our friends and colleagues. It is essential that all of us become aware of the health and appearance of our mouths.

What are the implications of not practicing good dental care?
If we do not practice good dental care we are at risk to dental decay (caries) and periodontal (gum) disease. This can in turn lead to halitosis (bad breath) and in my experience this one of the most common complaints of patients seeking dental care. Good dental care should be considered in two ways. The first is regular visits to the dentist and the hygienist for dental screening and cleaning. It is worth noting that oral cancer is on the increase and as with all cancers early diagnosis is essential. At every dental appointment the dentist will look for any early warning signs of oral cancer. The second important factor in good dental care is what we do ourselves every day. We must brush effectively 2 to 3 times per day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly. Tooth brushing can also be enhanced by the use of fluoride mouthwash.

How important is having a healthy diet for our teeth?
The phrase “we are what we eat” is also true for our teeth. Tooth development starts in the unborn baby long before birth. The expectant mother should therefore have a healthy diet. Proper nutrition means eating a well-balanced diet so the body can get the nutrients needed for good health and wellness. If your diet is low in the nutrients your body needs, your mouth may have a more difficult time resisting infection. A poor diet can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. Foods high in carbohydrates, sugars and starches greatly contribute to the production of plaque acids that attack the tooth enamel. Eventually these acids can cause tooth enamel to break down, forming a cavity. The higher the frequency of sugar intake, the higher the risk to decay, as every time oral bacteria are exposed to sugar they produce acid, which can take the mouth up to an hour to neutralise.

For those that have a sweet tooth what would you recommend as healthier but still tasty alternatives?
Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Reducing these foods will help protect your teeth. We should all eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups. Many of us like to snack and I would recommend nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.

What advice would you give to parents on looking after their children’s dental care?
The golden rules are:

  1. Good oral hygiene with regular tooth brushing using a fluoride toothpaste. For young children tooth brushing should always be supervised.

  2. Reduce the frequency of sugar intake between meals whilst encouraging only healthy snacks.

  3. Regular dental check ups.

  4. Referral to an orthodontist if the teeth are developing in an irregular position.

What are your tips for healthy and white teeth?
I have already discussed the important factors in keeping our teeth healthy. For those patients who are maintaining oral health and wish to have their teeth whitened there are a variety of possible techniques. Laser or light activated whitening is a faster technique but has been known to cause some sensitivity after the procedure. The slower method – a gel placed in a plastic mouthguard tray, is more gentle but can take up to two weeks to achieve a similar result. Prior to these treatments I would always recommend a thorough scale and polish of the teeth, and it is worth remembering that whitening procedures will need to be repeated to maintain the desired effect.

After whitening I would also urge:

  1. Avoid stain-causing foods and beverages such as coffee, tea and red wine.

  2. Use a straw – when drinking beverages, use a straw to keep stain-causing dyes away from your teeth.

  3. Quit smoking – eliminating tobacco can help keep your teeth bright.