Healthy nutrition: the tooth eats with you

Diet plays a vital role in causing dental disease. The good news: Eating healthy teeth doesn't just prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease

Teeth are also most happy about a decent meal with lots of fresh vegetables and little sugar

© istock / imagephotography

Teeth are actually tough. They stay with you for a lifetime - provided you take good care of them. One of the most important things that everyone can do to keep their mouth healthy is - in addition to brushing our teeth, visits to the dentist and fluoride - what we eat every day. "It has long been known that diet plays an important role in dental diseases," says Professor Dietmar Oesterreich, Vice President of the German Dental Association (BZÄK).

Teeth's greatest enemy

But what does that actually mean - a "tooth-healthy diet"? The basic rules, says Falk Schwendicke, professor at the Charité Center for Dentistry, Oral and Maxillofacial Medicine in Berlin, actually everyone knows: "Most people know that tooth decay is also linked to too much sugar."

In fact, certain bacteria found on teeth benefit from an oversupply of sugar. They multiply and metabolize it to acids. "Ultimately, the acid also decalcifies the teeth - to put it simply," says Schwendicke. Also in the case of periodontitis, a disease of the periodontium, certain bacteria grow particularly quickly due to the sugar. This can promote the disease.

The bitter thing about sugar is that neither children nor adults like to do without it. That it's so cheap doesn't make it any easier. This is also shown by the current figures. According to this, sugar consumption in Europe is around 37 kilograms per capita and year - and thus far above what doctors and the World Health Organization recommend.

The devil is in the fine print

The food industry has also ensured that we have had a consistently sweet diet for around two decades. "Sugar is a flavor enhancer. And it increases the shelf life - that's why it is contained in so many industrial foods," says the Berlin dentist Schwendicke. Even with hearty products - frozen food, chips or salad dressings - the sugar is hidden in the small print of the ingredients. Paying attention to this on a daily basis requires consistency. And sometimes almost a magnifying glass.

Dentists have therefore long been demanding that food manufacturers make the sugar content of finished products more clearly identifiable. The sugar content should not only be reduced in food for children. Taxes on lemonades and other high-sugar beverages could also be a step towards reducing consumption.

Tips for a healthy dental diet

Bite, of course

If you have to chew intensely while eating, your teeth benefit. On the one hand, because active chewing cleans the tooth at least a little. In addition, chewing produces saliva that washes around the teeth. This normalizes the pH value and remineralizes the teeth. Vegetables or low-sugar fruits such as apples, carrots and kohlrabi are suitable. Dentists also recommend consuming fruit and vegetables "as naturally as possible". Juices or smoothies don't count.

Water brings it

A good 1.5 liters of water or unsweetened drinks a day - this is recommended by nutrition experts and medical professionals. Juice or juice spritzers contain sugar just like lemonades. Thinning with water is of little use to the teeth. Another sugar trap in the glass are mixed beer drinks such as Alster, Radler, Diesel or Berliner Weisse. They do not only contain sugar, as a study by the newspaper Öko-Test showed this year. The citric acid it contains can also attack the teeth.

Take breaks

Allowing a few hours to pass between meals is not only good for your metabolism. Resting phases are also important for the teeth. If you constantly nibble on something, the natural pH value is always mixed up - the tooth then loses important minerals.

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BZÄK President Prof. Oesterreich emphasizes that a "critical look at industrial food" is not only worthwhile if you are concerned about your teeth. "It is often too sugary, sticky, and poor in fiber, vitamins and minerals."

Dentists are therefore not the only medical professionals who are calling for a rethink when it comes to food: "Even if you want to prevent cardiovascular or metabolic diseases, there is no getting around the topic of nutrition," says Prof. Dr. Schwendicke. So, quite literally, healthy begins - in the mouth.

What are the benefits of toothbrush chewing gum or sweets?

According to dentists, chewing gum is a suitable supportive measure for dental care. On the one hand, the chewing surfaces can also be cleaned a little while chewing. In addition, chewing stimulates the flow of saliva - this in turn helps remineralization. However, chewing gum is not a substitute for brushing your teeth: the bacterial layer on the teeth cannot remove the gum.

The chewing gum is not recommended for people who grind their teeth at night or during the day. In those affected, the already tense jaw muscles are additionally stressed by chewing gum.

Should you use sugar substitutes?

Caries-promoting bacteria actually love all table sugar - regardless of whether they are called glucose, maltose, fructose or sucrose. It is different with longer-chain sugars or sugar substitutes such as sorbitol and xylitol, or erythritol. These sugar substitutes cannot be metabolized by the bacteria.

In particular, xylitol or birch sugar is therefore also used for so-called tooth-friendly candies or chewing gum. Some studies have therefore also been able to provide indications that xylitol has a caries preventive effect. However, these studies are only on a scientifically weak level. However, there is no evidence to support the assumption that xylitol could cure tooth decay.