DIET AND DENTAL HEALTH IN CHILDREN
The last decade has brought about tremendous changes in our thinking about the relationship of diet and dental health. If you haven?t heard the latest thoughts on diet yet, you might be in for a surprise.
You Are What You Eat, But??..
Except for the beneficial micronutrient fluoride, nutrients in the food you eat probably have little effect on whether cavities form in your mouth. Good nutrition certainly contributes to overall good health but cannot ensure that your children will develop strong, disease resistant teeth. Many factors influence whether your children will develop cavities, and diet doesn?t matter too much if you pay attention to important steps such as practicing routine oral hygiene, getting enough fluoride daily, and having your dentist apply a protective sealant to the back teeth.
Foods and Tooth Decay
Let?s get one thing straight: foods alone do not cause cavities. Many of the foods we eat- including some of the ?valuable? foods from the standpoint of human nutrition ? provide nourishment for oral bacteria. They, in turn, secrete acids that can erode enamel and lead to cavities.
We feed the bacteria in our mouth, every time we eat carbohydrates.
These come in two types: sugars (simple carbohydrates) and cooked starches (complex carbohydrates). Once in the mouth, cooked starches (like bread, biscuits, chapattis, nan, etc.) start to be broken down into their component sugars, by an enzyme in saliva. To the bacteria in your mouth, sugar is sugar, no matter what "package" it comes in.
Sweet treats such as cakes, cookies and candies etc, are not measurably worse for your teeth than a hearty meal of rice, dal, chapatti, bhaji, fruit and a glass of lassi!
Refined sugar, sucrose is what people think of as sugar. But other foods contain "sugars" too. Dairy products contain a form of sugar called ?lactose?, fruits contain ?fructose?, cooked starches, such as chapatti and rice are broken down in the mouth into other sugars, namely, glucose and maltose.
Two important factors in our discussion of foods and decay, are how often you eat and how long a particular food stays in the mouth after you eat it.
To survive in a hostile environment like the mouth, the bacteria must take advantage of food, when it is available. The bacteria in your mouth become active whether you eat a big meal or a few grapes, and remain active, producing acids that cause cavities ?for at least 30 minutes after you eat?. This is why frequent eating is one factor contributing to dental decay.
Another, is "oral retentiveness", that is how long a food remains in the mouth after you eat it. So what is the "stickiest" food you can think of? Caramels? Chikki? They feel sticky when you touch them, and chewy when they go into your mouth. But as far as oral retentiveness goes, our tactile perception of stickiness is not accurate. In fact, foods like biscuits, cakes, chips, all cooked starches, stay longer in the mouth than a caramel. The caramel is mostly sugar that dissolves in saliva and clears the mouth quite quickly. Cooked starches, on the other hand, don?t dissolve in saliva and clear the mouth until they are broken down into their component simple sugars by the salivary enzymes. The process often takes hours, and the bacteria are having a field day and secreting enamel-destroying acids. Consider what this means if you:
Eat a cookie that clings to your teeth for more than an hour
Sip a sugared soft drink through the afternoon
Nurse a sore throat by sucking on sugary lozenges, one after another.
In every case you are subjecting your teeth to prolonged exposure to potentially harmful acids.
Having read so far, you may wonder if I?m about to advocate fasting as the unfortunate price you must pay for avoiding cavities. Hardly. I believe there is a positive side to all this: as long as our children are not constantly snacking, we can stop nagging them about the snack selection (as far as their teeth are concerned). Many children need snacks daily to help meet their nutritional needs, and parents should choose and offer snacks accordingly.
Most children can snack safely three or four times day, in addition to regular meals.
This number should be dentally harmless for the child who:
Brushes thoroughly twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
Gets sufficient fluoride from toothpastes, and topical fluoride treatments administered by the dentist.
Has protective sealants applied to the chewing surfaces the teeth
Sees a dentist regularly.
Last updated on 24-06-2002