When I had my teeth cleaned last week, my dentist said his office had established an 80/20 policy: If an 80-year-old comes to the office and still has 20 teeth, that patient gets a party! I laughed, but it made me think about oral health and how diet plays a significant role in keeping your teeth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of people age 65 and older have no teeth. (To put this in perspective, if we have 32 teeth, that’s like losing one tooth every other year of life.)
In the boomer years, oral health can become complicated. Systemic drugs prescribed for chronic diseases can harm the oral mucosa; untreated tooth decay, ill-fitting dentures, bridges and loose or missing teeth can make eating unpleasant, and poor overall nutrition exacerbates everything.
Despite those facts, nearly a third of older adults have untreated tooth decay, hastening a downward spiral of oral health problems.
The statistics are daunting, but consistent oral health care can prevent, and sometimes improve, oral health problems. It comes down to good hygiene, eating a healthy diet and seeing your dentist regularly.
While we all recognize that brushing and flossing keep teeth and gums healthy, not everyone is familiar with foods that fight cavities. To appreciate the food and oral health connection, we need to understand how cavities develop.
Very simply, bacteria in the mouth produce acid, and when teeth are frequently exposed to acid, tooth enamel begins to erode. So, if you eat and drink often and don’t brush afterward, the acid from the bacteria begins to degrade your teeth. A consequence of tooth decay over time is a cavity.
Every minute of every day, a battle rages in your mouth between bacteria and tooth enamel. Fortunately, tooth enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, so if you can’t brush, calcium and phosphorus are hard at work on your behalf, trying to re-mineralize and protect your teeth.
Additionally, if you choose your meals and snacks wisely, certain foods can help fight cavities by minimizing oral bacterial. Here are a few foods to chew on:
♦ Cheese and yogurt: The expression “Say cheese!” takes on new meaning in the context of this article. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, lactic acid in cheese can protect against tooth decay. Cheese also happens to be a source of dietary calcium and phosphorus. The same is true for yogurt and kefir.
♦ Apples: An apple a day can keep both the doctor and dentist away! That’s because apples are a source of malic acid, a “good acid” that increases saliva. Since saliva can help re-mineralize teeth, crunching on an apple between meals can be helpful when you can’t brush right away.
♦ Broccoli: Raw broccoli is like a little brush that can help clean your teeth, according to research published in the European Journal of Dentistry. Broccoli is also a source of iron, which helps teeth in the fight against acid-producing bacteria.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.