A strong connection exists between the food people eat and their oral/dental health, according to an updated position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2013, Vol. 113:5, pp. 693-701). Dental health and nutrition are mutually related, as the health of the oral cavity directly impacts a person’s ability to eat and intake nutrition. Conversely, what a person eats and even how they eat it can impact dental health. For example, heavy consumption of sugar (in soda, coffee, fruit drinks, candy, cookies, etc.) and especially slowly dissolving candies has been proven to increase risk of oral and dental disease. Foods and habits to improve dental health include eating a high volume of fresh fruits and vegetables; choosing whole-grain, low-sugar bread and cereal products; chewing sugar-free gum briefly after eating; and spacing food and beverage intake at least two hours apart.

People with a diet high in sugar have more to worry about regarding their oral health than just cavities. Diet, along with other lifestyle factors such as poor oral hygiene and tobacco use, are directly linked to common conditions such as dental caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) diseases. In extreme cases, bacteria produced by consuming excessive amounts of sugar can erode tooth enamel, exposing the tooth to further attack on tooth proteins by enzymes with leads to tooth decay. Decayed teeth are very painful and the bacteria that caused the decay can spread and begin attacking other teeth. These teeth may have to be removed, which can lead to forced dietary change. Periodontal diseases, another common condition, can also be caused from and exacerbated by heavy consumption of various types of sugar. Gingivitis, a non-destructive but uncomfortable inflammation of the gums, is the most common type of periodontal disease. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to destructive periodontal diseases. In this case, gums can recede, become very painful, and teeth may fall out if the periodontal base weakens enough. Though gingivitis does not always progress to become a more serious condition, destructive periodontal diseases are always preceded by gingivitis.

Nutritional deficiencies manifest in various ways, inside and out of the body. The face, tongue, and soft tissues in the mouth are particularly susceptible. Inadequate consumption of protein, iron, water-soluble vitamins (eg. vitamin C and B vitamins), and other minerals can result in discomfort, swelling, and discoloration. It is best to get these nutrients through wholesome foods, as these foods are not only high in nutrition but the act of eating them helps maintain oral and dental health.