In the quest for the ideal diet, people often stress over one particular food group: carbohydrates. And for good reason—some carbohydrates have been linked to chronic inflammation, a contributing factor in many diseases. One such condition in particular, periodontal (gum) disease, could permanently damage your dental health.
But before you throw all the carbs out of your diet, let’s take a closer look at them. Not all carbs are the same or contribute to inflammation to the same degree.
Carbohydrates are organic compounds existing in living tissues. In foods, the most prevalent of these are sugars and starches that break down during digestion into the simple sugar glucose, which the cells in an organism use for energy.
But not all carb-based foods digest at the same rate, measured along a scale called the glycemic index. High glycemic foods like sugar, baked goods or potatoes digest quickly and can rapidly increase the glucose levels in the blood (blood sugar). This sudden glucose spike then triggers an insulin surge from the pancreas to restore the level to normal. This process in turn can cause inflammation.
On the other end of the glycemic index are complex or unrefined carbohydrates that digest much more slowly, and don’t quickly elevate blood sugar like simple carbs. In fact, nutritional studies consistently show carbohydrates in most vegetables, greens, beans or whole grains may actually decrease inflammation.
Inflammation is also a primary factor in gum disease, caused by a bacterial infection in the gums. Chronic inflammation damages the gums’ attachment with the teeth and can contribute to eventual tooth loss. And if your body already has an overactive inflammatory response due to your diet, you could be even more susceptible to gum disease.
A change in your diet in relation to carbs could help reduce this risk. Eat less sugar, white flour, rice and potatoes and more complex carbs like fresh vegetables and fruits. For even more protection include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (like certain fish and nuts) and less Omega 6 foods (fried food or pastries, or chips, for example). And don’t forget your antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Eating fewer simple carbs and more complex carbs will help reduce inflammation in the body. And that’s a good thing for your gums.
If you would like more information on how diet affects dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
If you’re committed to providing your family nutritional, low-sugar snacks, you’re not only helping their physical well-being but their dental health too. If you have school-age children, though, you might be concerned about other snacks available to them while away from home.
To begin with, any potential problems at school with available snack items might not be as bad as you think. A few years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established new snacking guidelines for public schools. Known as the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, the new guidelines require schools to only allow snacks sold on school grounds that meet minimum nutritional standards. In addition, these guidelines promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
Still, the guideline standards are only a minimum, which could leave plenty of room for snacks that don’t meet your nutritional expectations. And school-offered snacks aren’t the only ones available on campus: there are also those brought by other students, which often get swapped around. The latter represent tempting opportunities for your child to consume snacks that aren’t the best for dental health.
But there are things you can do to minimize the lure of these poor snacking opportunities at school. First and foremost is to educate your child on why some snacks are better for them than others. In other words, make nutrition an instilled family value—and, of course, practice what you preach.
You can also send them with snacks you deem better for them than what’s available at school. Of course, you’ll be competing with a lot of exciting and enticing snacks, so try to inject a little “pizzazz” into yours like a dusting of cinnamon or a little parmesan cheese on popcorn. And use a little creativity (even getting your kids involved) to make snack choices fun, like using cookie-cutters to shape whole-grain bread and cheese into shapes.
And consider getting involved with other parents to encourage school administrators to adopt stricter snack standards over and above the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative. This not only may improve the nutritional content of available snacks, but also transform a “family value” into a community-wide appreciation for snacks that promote healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental-friendly snacking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snacking at School.”
“The Freshman 15” is a popular way of referring to the phenomenon of new college students gaining weight during their freshman year (although the average is less than fifteen pounds). According to research, college students gain weight mainly due to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
If you're experiencing this as a college student, you should also know poor diet and lifestyle choices harm your teeth and gums as well. If you don't want to encounter major dental problems, then you need to make some changes beginning with the same cause for your weight gain: what you eat and drink.
Like the rest of your body, your teeth and gums have the best chance for being healthy when you're eating a balanced, nutritional diet low in added sugar. And it's not just mealtime: constant snacking on sweets not only loads on the calories, it also feeds disease-causing oral bacteria. Sipping on acidic beverages like sodas, sports or energy drinks also increases the levels of acid that can erode tooth enamel.
Some lifestyle habits can also affect oral health. Using tobacco (smoked or smokeless) inhibits your mouth's natural healing properties and makes you more susceptible to dental disease. While it may be cool to get piercings in your lips, cheeks or tongue, the hardware can cause gum recession, chipped teeth and soft tissue cuts susceptible to infection. And unsafe sexual practices increase your risk for contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that's been linked with oral cancer, among other serious health problems.
Last but not least, how you regularly care for your teeth and gums can make the biggest difference of all. You should brush and floss your teeth ideally twice a day to clean away plaque, a thin film of disease-causing bacteria and food particles. And twice-a-year dental cleanings and checkups will round out your prevention efforts against tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Making your own choices is a rite of passage into adulthood. Making good choices for your teeth and gums will help ensure they remain healthy for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on maintaining dental health during the college years, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Health Tips for College Students.”