Healthy eating for a healthier smile

Written by Katie Allison, Accredited Practising Dietitian

The sweet and not-so-sweet truth about sugar:

When it comes to sugar and mouth health not all sugars are the same. Sugar found in soft drinks, cordials, sugary foods and highly processed foods made on flour (such as cakes and biscuits) are lower in nutrition and higher in kilojoules. This means we can put on weight easily if we eat too much. This type of sugar also feeds bacteria living on our teeth which then produce acid, forming the perfect environment for dental caries.

On the other hand naturally occurring sugars in milk, yoghurt and fresh fruit come with lots of nutrition. These foods also contain other properties that may protect against dental caries. This is important to note because foods such as reduced fat dairy, fruit and vegetables play an important role in healthy eating.

Acidic foods:

The acid in foods can erode tooth enamel. Some examples of acidic foods include wine, coffee and citrus. Citrus fruits are still an important part of healthy eating. Next time you choose to snack on an orange pair it with a glass of water.

It’s all in the timing:

Beware of grazing or constant snacking as it is not good for your waistline, diabetes management and your teeth. It usually takes about 30 min – 1 hour for the acid in our mouth to neutralise and the enamel to start repairing. This means if we are consistently snacking, especially on sugary or acidic foods and drinks it can have negative effects.  In many cases spreading out the timing of our meals and snacks evenly over the day can help manage our blood glucose levels as well as our mouth health. When having meals aim to balance them with some lean protein, wholegrains and salad to help neutralise food acid.

Other ideas:
  • Drink tap water which contains fluoride. Fluoride can help strengthen tooth enamel. It is also cheap and kilojoule free!
  • Aiming for two serves of fruit and five serves of veggies each day is a great start! The fibre and vitamin C found in fresh fruit and vegetables help protect against gum disease.
  • Include dairy. Dairy foods have a unique mix of calcium, phosphorus and casein. This combination can help protect tooth enamel and strengthen oral health.
  • If you are living with diabetes ensuring good blood glucose management also helps promote good gum and mouth health.

While it is true your nutrition matters when it comes to good oral health but it certainly does not replace your regular check up with your dentist and keeping up good oral hygiene. These are essential!

Glossary:

Dental caries: tooth decay, cavities, or holes in teeth.

Tooth enamel: one of the tissues that make up a tooth. It is the protective outer layer.

Tooth decay: when the enamel is damaged and dental caries start to form.

For more information on balancing your nutrition and information on oral health visit the following websites:

eatforhealth.gov.au

ada.org.au

Or read the NDSS fact sheet here.

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