A Top Priority: Good Nutrition = Good Oral Health

A Top Priority: Good Nutrition = Good Oral Health

When it comes to preparing a healthy lunch for your kids, you may already be selecting healthy foods such as milk, fruits, bread, cereals and vegetables. However, did you realize that these foods can be bad for your teeth because they contain sugar and/or starches?

Maintaining good oral health means eating a balanced diet, but there are many prepackaged foods that aren’t as healthy as they promise because of lurking sugars, starches and fillers. Foods containing carbohydrates and sugars come in contact with the germs and bacteria in our mouth that cause plaque.

What exactly is plaque? Plaque is a soft, sticky film that contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria causes tooth decay and gum disease if not removed on a daily basis through brushing and flossing. Proper care also includes regular visits to the dentist for cleaning.

It is important for you to help your children and teenagers select healthy foods, eat a balanced diet and maintain proper oral hygiene. When investigating food types to include, there are two great resources available:

  • gov offers information about providing balanced nutrition that is easy to understand with fun activities for children and adult.
  • The Food Pyramid, provided by the USDA, allows you to input the gender and age of your child to determine his or her average daily nutritional requirements, which aids in planning a healthy lunch menu.

Lunch Box Tips:

There are many great food selections available for making your child’s packed lunch a yummy success. If you are choosing prepackaged or snack-type foods, be sure to carefully read the label. Some items are marked as healthy, but if you study the label, they may not be what you expected.

Try to stay away from foods with high sugar and starch content, as well as high fat and sodium content. Usually, these types of foods are also high in calories.

Even healthy foods may not be appropriate for a school lunch. The following foods are sticky and/or chewy. They should be avoided or limited because they stick to the teeth and saliva is unable to wash the sugar away.

  • Raisins
  • Granola bars
  • Honey
  • Dried figs
  • Peanut butter cookies
  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Jelly beans
  • Lollipops
  • Hard candy
  • Caramel
  • Taffy
  • Surgery drinks – soda, juices
  • Surgery gum

The following tips can help you learn how to prepare a lunch that best meets your child’s dental and nutritional needs.

  • Most fruits, vegetables and cheese are great snacks at home or in your child’s lunch.
  • When selecting fruit, the best choices are those containing more water, such as: pears, grapes, and apples. They are also easier to pack for lunch than other fruits.
  • Any type of aged cheese is a good choice, such as: Swiss, Cheddar or Monterey Jack. Some studies have suggested that aged cheese can actually help prevent tooth decay. You can use cookie cutters to cut cheese into fun shapes.
  • When selecting vegetables, try raw broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers and celery.
  • Providing a small container of a sugar-free or low-sugar salad dressing could make a great dip for your child’s vegetables.
  • Try different healthy foods or low-carb snacks that your children like.
  • Occasionally send a fun snack.

What about after eating?  

Because destructive plaque kicks in after eating, encourage your children to brush their teeth after lunch. Packing a travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste makes that easier to accomplish. At least ask them to rinse well with water after eating. If the school allows gum, they can chew a piece of sugarless gum for a few minutes after they eat.

Helping our children with good nutrition and oral health care is important. Developing positive habits will not only assist them now, but also with their future health. We as parents or guardians can help set the standards of good habits and choices.

References: ChooseMyPlate.gov, The Food Pyramid-USDA, The American Dental Association


Tooth Sensitivity

Written By Dr. Michelle Horst

Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth can prevent you from eating some of your favorite foods, discourage you from smiling in the cold weather and can be an overall nuisance.  But did you know that sensitive teeth can be a dental symptom that can lead to bigger problems?

A healthy tooth consists of an outer layer of enamel, which is the hardest mineralized substance in the human body and covers the part of the tooth generally not covered by gums.  Beneath the enamel is a layer called dentin.  Dentin consists of dentin tubules which are tiny tubes that are filled with a fluid that can travel from the outer enamel to the inner nerve.  It is the changes in the movement of this fluid within the tubules that is believed to cause temperature or chemical sensitivity.  The root of the tooth, generally below the gums, is covered in cementum.  It is not as strong as the enamel and is not as good at protecting the nerve from temperature sensitivity.

Sensitivity is generally a result of two major factors:  the nerve on the inside of the tooth doesn’t have enough protection and/or there is damage to the tooth or gums.

If the nerve inside the tooth does not have enough protection, it is constantly exposed to hot and cold temperatures resulting in sensitivity.  This can happen if the tooth enamel is worn down or is too thin.  Tooth enamel can wear away from using a hard or medium bristle toothbrush or from brushing too hard.  I tell my patients that they should brush every surface of their teeth as if they are cleaning dust off of a glass window, not as if they are scrubbing a greasy pot.  Everyday, I see permanent damage as a result of heavy brushing.  In some cases, we have to place some bonding (white filling material) over the notches on their teeth to prevent further nerve damage.

Enamel can also become thin if it is constantly exposed to acidic foods or drink.  Soda, citric juices, coffee and wine are some examples of foods that can permanently damage your teeth by thinning the enamel away.  I tell my patients that it is best to drink acidic and sugary foods all within 15-20 minutes and to rinse with water rather then brush immediately after drinking something like coffee.  Brushing immediately afterwards only re-enforces the acid into the tooth resulting in permanent damage.  If you are sensitive from thin enamel, you can try using a desensitizing toothpaste that can be purchased over-the-counter.  Desensitizing toothpastes have ingredients that block the dentin tubules and prevent sensitivity.  They have to be used frequently to get good results.  Fluoride varnishes, which can help strengthen teeth and decrease thermal transmission, can also be applied to the teeth at your dentist’s office.

Gum recession is another reason for some major tooth discomfort.  If the gums have been pushed down or lost from the root, they expose the tooth root which is made of a very thin material called cementum.  Cementum is not as good at protecting the nerve from temperature sensitivity.  Gum surgery may be recommended to re-cover the tooth root with gum tissue.

Sensitive teeth can be a result of reversible or permanent damage to the tooth and/or nerve.  This can be due to a deeper cavity or tooth and nerve trauma.  In this case, it is very important to see a dentist before an infection occurs which can result in permanent tooth loss.  In some cases a crown (dental cap) and/or a root canal (removal of the nerve and filling the inside of the tooth) is necessary in order to keep your tooth longer.

Don’t let tooth sensitivity prevent you from smiling this winter!  Make sure to talk to your dentist about your tooth sensitivity so that they can make recommendations on the proper treatment to get you feeling better.