We all know the importance of a healthy balanced diet. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables gives us the vitamins and minerals we need to live a healthy life. But did you know the nutrition you get from food contributes to your oral health as well? I’ll explain how not eating enough nutritious foods can contribute to vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can negatively impact your teeth.
What are the main oral manifestations of nutritional deficiencies?
Generally, mineral deficiencies affect the hard structures (teeth and bones) whilst vitamin deficiencies affect soft tissues. A common early sign of vitamin deficiency is the development of ulcers in the mouth, which vary in size and can last up to three weeks.
Vitamin A deficiency is associated with very low-fat diets and liver problems and affects the skin in the mouth.
Vitamin B deficiencies are typically caused by restrictive diets, such as veganism and digestive disorders. This can lead to painful sores on the side of mouth and lips, swelling of the tongue and red, inflamed gums.
Vitamin C deficiency, which is rare in the UK, is caused by poor fruit and vegetable intake and causes gum swelling and bleeding.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the UK, particularly among those who do not get much sunlight exposure or who are on a dairy-free diet. Not getting enough Vitamin D affects the calcification and strength of teeth and bone.
How does poor nutrition affect the oral cavity?
In the UK, malnutrition affects 1.3 million people over the age of 65 and leads to the listed oral issues above, as well as issues with poorly fitting dentures and receding gums. Soreness in the oral cavity leads to poorer oral intake, which worsens the underlying cause.
Which foods are recommended for optimal oral health?
To maintain optimal oral health through foods, eat things like oily fish, milk, broccoli, spinach, oranges, nuts, carrots, eggs and avocado. Safe snacks in between meals include nuts, cheese, fresh vegetables and yoghurt.
What should they avoid?
While all foods can form part of a healthy balanced diet, it is important to eat from all of the major food groups. Avoiding sugary and acidic food and drink (including lemon water) between meals is important, as the acids and sugars can attack tooth enamel. If you are opting for sugary and acidic food and drink, try to indulge at meal time only to minimize the impact. You should limit sugar or acid attacks to three or four times a day at a maximum.
Avoiding sugary snacks and drinks between meals will also help to keep blood sugars more stable and will help to avoid spikes and drops in blood sugars, which can improve energy levels and appetite regulation.
As part of an overall balanced diet, ensure you eat plenty of plants, lean protein, nuts and healthy fats, and avoid processed foods and refined carbohydrates including white bread, pasta and processed meats.
What nutrients maintain healthy soft tissue and teeth?
A balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, nuts, good sources of calcium and high-quality protein, is essential. If a diet is restricted through choice or for medical reasons, a high-quality multi-vitamin is a good back up. It is important not to take single vitamins in isolation (apart from vitamin D and those prescribed by a doctor) as they compete for absorption in the intestines and an excess of one can lead to deficiency in another.
Is snacking throughout the day bad for you?
There is a trend in the non-scientific nutrition community towards spreading meals throughout the day, which can exacerbate dental problems. This grazing dietary pattern is also seen in the general population and is known to be a contributory factor in the obesity epidemic.
How eating disorders affect oral health
Anorexia nervosa is hallmarked by continuous starvation with minimal nutritional intake. This can quickly and easily lead to any or all of the oral manifestations of nutrient deficiency listed above.
Bulimia nervosa is characterised by bingeing on food and then purging through induced vomiting and/or laxative use. Stomach acid is close to the same pH as battery acid (pH1) and therefore, when it is regurgitated into the mouth through vomiting, it causes erosion to the enamel, identifiable on the back molars and the back of the front teeth.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux is a common condition which patients may not even be aware of. Having your stomach acid refluxed into your mouth (which commonly occurs during sleep) will cause the same patterns of erosion as bulimia around the molars. You may exhibit other symptoms, such as heartburn, throat clearing, disturbed sleep and belching. It is worth checking if you have any of these other symptoms and I recommend a visit to your GP.