The primary cause of cavities, gingivitis and periodontal disease is accumulation of plaque and tartar on your teeth. The bacteria normally present in your mouth converts the food you eat into acid, which in turn combines with bacteria and leftover food to form a sticky substance called plaque. Plaque accumulation can begin on your teeth in as little as 20 minutes after you’ve eaten. If not removed, the acid in the plaque dissolves tooth enamel and creates a cavity.

The way you eat and the things you eat will either aid your body in fighting cavities and gum disease, or make you more likely to develop them. While your grandmother would have probably told you that eating candy was bad for your teeth, today’s dental nutritionists know that she was only partly right. Yes, sugary snacks are one of the culprits that set up the right conditions for development of plaque, but did you know that carbohydrates, such as bread or potatoes, are just as bad for your teeth as a candy bar? And did you know you can combat these conditions by eating your food in the right combinations?

The two main factors that make a food a bad snack is the amount of sugar in the food and the length of time the food stays in your mouth. Strangely enough, the sugar and chocolate in a candy bar will actually be washed out of your mouth faster than the sugars from some fruits or the bread from your pizza. So it’s the frequency of meals and snacks and the way foods are combined that increase the risk for cavities. Any food or beverage, even a healthy one, will be converted into acid if it stays in your mouth long enough. When eaten with a healthy meal, sugary or starchy foods will be washed away by the protein and fat in the meal, leaving your teeth cleaner and healthier.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you eat healthy for your teeth…

  • Eat a moderate, balanced diet using the Food Guide Pyramid
  • Combine sweet or starchy foods with protein rich foods, so that the sweets and starches will have less chance of sticking around
  • Chewing sugarless gum after meals and snacks can help the pH (acidity/alkalinity) balance in your mouth and also increases the production of saliva, which helps wash food off your teeth
  • Only drink sweet or acidic beverages with meals and snacks to buffer their effect on your teeth
  • When planning your diet, choose foods and meal patterns that give you the energy you need to get through the day, provide the nutrients your body needs, and promote oral and general health

Remember that your teeth are essential, not just for smiling, but for biting and chewing food. They’re a very important part of physical growth and health. Brush and floss every day, and eat a diet that keeps your body functioning properly and keeps your teeth and gums their healthiest.