Nutrition and oral health

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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OUR modern diet contains a mix of sugars. Oral bacteria can ferment all these sugars with more or less equal ability, with the exception of lactose (milk sugar), from which less acid is produced.

However, it is important to remember that there are many varieties of sugars, and the form and frequency in which they are ingested impact oral and general health.

High sugar/low fibre diets

Refined or processed sugars are derived from two main sources: Sugar cane or beets yield sucrose, the scientific name for what we know as sugar; and corn which, when processed, yields high fructose corn syrup.

Both of these forms of sugar are devoid of nutrients. When added to our diets, they are referred to as processed, added, or free sugars. As you'll see, they turn up in cake, candy, cereals, cola, cookies, and a lot more. Large quantities of either sucrose or fructose in the diet are highly cariogenic (decay-causing) and also contribute to obesity.

High fibre/low sugar diets

All plants produce simple sugars known as natural sugars, the products of photosynthesis — sunlight acting on green leaves. Fruits and vegetables contain glucose, fructose, and sucrose, which are digested and/or absorbed slowly and more efficiently due to their fibre content.

They also contain vitamins and minerals which can only be properly absorbed in this form. Consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of free sugars is likely to decrease decay and promote health.

Starches constitute a very diverse food group. They may be highly refined and consumed in their natural state, raw, or cooked (peas, bananas, beans). Whole grains have properties that protect teeth. They require more chewing and thereby stimulate secretion of protective saliva.

Cooked or uncooked staple starchy foods such as rice, potatoes and bread have low decay-producing potential. When sugars are added to already starchy foods, the potential for decay increases significantly.

Fruits do not play a significant role in dental decay unless consumed in excess. Dried fruit, on the other hand, may be more cariogenic due to a high sugar content and sticky nature. Some dried fruits contain sugars that are added during processing.

Oral hygiene, sugar substitutes, and fluoride

The fight against dental decay starts with effective oral hygiene practices, which include brushing and flossing. Other methods of teeth cleaning, such as eating fibrous foods, apples, and carrots will not cleanse the tiny pits, fissures and contact areas of adjacent teeth where decay begins, but are healthier than eating sugary snacks that stick to the teeth, providing reservoirs for acid production.

Fluoride provides a vital topical protective effect. When fluoride is incorporated into tooth enamel, it makes it more resistant to acid dissolution and therefore decay. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is the most important way of getting fluoride into the surfaces of teeth.

Dr Sharon Robinson DDS has offices at the Dental Place Cosmetix Spa, located at shop #5, Winchester Business Centre, 15 Hope Road, Kingston 10. Dr Robinson is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Oral Health Sciences. She may be contacted at 630-4710. Like their Facebook page, Dental Place Cosmetix Spa for an opportunity to take advantage of weekly specials.

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