Nutrition and Your Oral Health

The foods and drinks we consume to nourish our body and our eating habits generally influence our health and wellbeing. A good diet reduces the risk for tooth decay, and other health related issues such as coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. 

A balanced diet provides the body with the nutrients it requires for better health, it will help reduce our risk for tooth decay, and other health related-illnesses like Type Diabetes 2. It's good to get the balance right so that we look and feel our best. There are many foods that provide important nutrients that also contain sugar, and are consumed as part of a healthy and balanced diet. From an oral health perspective, whole fruits, vegetables and milk containing natural sugars are preferable to foods with 'free sugars'. 'Free sugars' are any sugars added to food and those sugars that are naturally present in honey, fruit juices and syrup. Foods containing 'free sugars' can cause tooth decay and be consumed only as part of a meal and not as snacks between meals.The World Health Organisation recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than roughly 6 teaspoons per day to avoid health risks like weight gain and tooth decay.  For good oral health there is no such thing as a healthy sugar, and this applies to added sugar as well as sugar naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and concentrates.

Lack of nutrition in the diet has been linked to diseases such as anaemia and osteoporosis while overeating is linked to obesity. The Healthy Ireland Survey 2019 recently found that 37% have a normal weight, 37% are overweight and 23% are obese. 2% are underweight. The report states that ‘the negative habits that lead to excessive weight gain (such as poor dietary choices and insufficient physical activity) may be shared among multiple members of a household meaning that children of overweight parents are more likely to become overweight themselves. As 63% of parents are overweight or obese, this means that it is likely that most children in Ireland are growing up in a household where at least one parent is overweight’. In the Healthy Ireland Survey 2018, of the 5 unhealthy food types measured in the survey (sweets, cakes and biscuits, salted snacks, pastries and takeaways), 34% of people consume at least one of them daily and 91% of people consume at least one each week.

The key messages for a healthy diet are:

  • Eat more vegetables, salad and fruit - up to seven servings a day (A sometimes-forgotten fact is that fruit contains acids, which can erode your teeth, if you eat an unusually large amount). 
  • Limit intake of high fat, sugar and salt in food and drinks.
  • Size matters: use the Food Pyramid as a guide for serving sizes.
  • Increase your physical activity levels.
  • Small changes can make a big difference... so start today.

Maximising health and wellbeing, will help guide positive health behavior for future generations. Guidelines and food plans are available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/da7f19-eat-well/

Practical tips for Healthy Eating and Drinking

Reducing Sugar Intake

It’s not the quantity of sugar in food or drink that causes damage to teeth, it’s the frequency of your sugar consumption because you're increasing the amount of daily acid attacks on your teeth.

Harmful hidden sugars in foods and drinks are not easy to identify.  If you look at ingredient labels you might be surprised that products saying ‘no artificial additives’, ‘low fat’ or ‘healthy’ may contain a large amount of added sugar. Look out for the following on the ingredient label:

Sugar names are sucrose, glucose, corn syrup, fructose, maltose, dextrose, and fruit sugar. Products labelled as being ‘low in sugar’ may only be low in sucrose sugar and high in other sugars! Some products saying ‘no added sugar’ may contain fruit sugars instead of sucrose and can still be harmful. Read food labels carefully for sugar content. Less than 5g per 100g is low sugar (4g of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar).

Choosing alternatives

  • Suggested snacks for inbetween meals include whole fruit, crisp raw vegetables, sandwiches, variety of breads, yoghurt and cheese (providing calcium for healthy bones and teeth), low fat cheese, plain popcorn and scones.
  • Cereals such as porridge and shredded wheat are low sugar options and excellent energy providers. Consider adding fruit e.g. blueberries for sweetness. Avoid the sugar-coated types. In general, check the sugar and salt content of your breakfast cereals.
  • Avoid sugary foods e.g. sweets, chocolate and biscuits between meals to reduce the risk of tooth decay. Dried fruit is also a sugary snack.
  • Milk and water are the most tooth friendly drinks and are suitable to drink between meals.
  • Pure juices and smoothies are best consumed at meal times and should only count as a maximum of 1 of your 5 a day for fruit/veg. Crushing fruit into juice releases the sugar (fructose) contained in the fruit, which can cause damage to your teeth (so even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are sugary). Frequent consumption of these can also lead to enamel erosion and although pure juices may not contain sucrose they are rich in fructose and can also be cariogenic (cause tooth decay). As fructose in whole fruits pose little or no threat to dental health, whole fruits rather than fruit juices/smoothies are best consumed between meals. Drinks containing added sugars, including probiotic and yoghurt-type drinks, should only be consumed at meal times.
  • Regular intake of carbonated drinks, including sparkling water, can lead to enamel erosion of the teeth, best to choose an alternative..

Health and dental implications of soft fizzy drinks

Studies in the United States, have linked daily consumption of soft drinks containing cola (a phosphoric acid) to lower bone density in women. There is also a growing concern that daily soft drink consumption is displacing milk intake, an important source of dietary calcium, thereby increasing the risk among young teenage girls of osteoporosis in later life. Research also shows an association between soft drink consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The frequent consumption of sugary fizzy drinks and their acidic content increases the risk of tooth decay and can cause erosion of the tooth enamel. It's not a good idea to sip on fizzy drinks throughout the day. Sugar and silvia combine to create acid, and each acid attack lasts for about 20 minutes so every time you take a sip the acid damage starts again. If you are drinking a fizzy drink, use a straw so that your teeth are less exposed to the sugar and acid in the drink, have it at a meal and rinse your mouth out with water afterwards (fluoridated tap water is best). You might think that diet and sugar-free drinks are ok for the teeth, however they also contain acid and therefore cause tooth erosion.

Here is a link to a very helpful video gives tips on how to reduce our intake of sugar-sweetened drinks.