Oral Health: Sugar, Fluoride and Nutrition

kids brushing teeth

April is oral health month. What better time than to think about how you take care of your mouth? Not only is good dental health important to having healthy teeth and gums, but it may also lower your risk of chronic disease. Read on for how your health and happy smile go hand in hand.

Taking care of your smile

Here are some reasons why good dental hygiene is important:

  • Oral pain (such as tender, bleeding gums), infections and missing teeth can affect your ability to eat, talk and socialize. Being unable to eat can affect your nutrition, not to mention your enjoyment of food.

  • Research now shows that there is a connection between poor dental health and chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. 

Healthy mouth checklist: Are you doing these four things to keep your mouth healthy?

1. Make nutritious food choices, while limiting foods that are high in sugar or acid

Foods high in sugar can cause cavities. Foods high in acid, such as pop, orange juice and lemonade can cause acid erosion of your tooth enamel. This can damage your teeth and make them soft and sensitive.

2. Visit your dental professional regularly

Regular checkups mean your dental professional can clean your teeth and check for signs of oral disease. This can prevent problems or stop small problems before they get worse.

To find a dentist in your area, contact your provincial or territorial regulatory authority or dental association. Many association websites have a dentist locator or dentist directory.

3. Keep your mouth clean by brushing and flossing everyday 

Use a soft-bristle toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth and tongue twice a day. Don’t forget to floss! When you don’t floss, you miss cleaning a third of your tooth surface.

Follow these instructions and diagrams on how to brush and floss properly.

Check your mouth on a regular basis. If you spot any of these warning signs, see your dental professional right away.

4. Avoid tobacco

Smoking or chewing tobacco can lead to mouth cancers, gum disease and tooth loss.

For more on tobacco and your health: Smoking and Nutrition

My child wants to drink pop with their meals. Is this harmful for their teeth?

Yes. Pop is high in sugar and is acidic, both of which can cause cavities in children. The sugar in pop will sit on your child’s teeth and get broken down by bacteria that will produce acid. This acid may then begin to break down the tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities.  
Instead, offer your children water, low fat milk or fortified plant-based beverage with their meals. Even 100% fruit juice is high in sugar and should be offered only once in a while or not at all.
In between meals, it’s best to drink water most often. 

Does sugar cause cavities?

Yes. Bacteria live on our teeth and they feed on sugar (and other carbohydrates) that get stuck to the tooth surface. When you eat sticky, sweet foods like candy and toffee and don’t clean your teeth afterwards, the bacteria start to eat the sugar, which produces acid. This acid may then begin to break down the enamel on your teeth, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities.  
If you’re going to eat sugary, sticky foods, eat them with your meals and then brush your teeth. If you can’t brush your teeth, eat an apple or chew a piece of sugarless gum. The saliva you make when chewing gum helps to wash some of the sugar off your teeth.
For oral health and overall health, it is recommended to reduce your intake of foods with added sugars like sweetened beverages, desserts, baked goods, chocolate, ice cream and candy, as well as table sugar, honey, jams and syrups.

Should I be concerned about fluoride in water?

No. Adding fluoride to our tap water has been shown to be the most effective and inexpensive way to offer fluoride protection to a large number of people. Fluoride is a mineral that has been added to our water supply to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride can also be found in toothpaste, mouthwash and supplements. Research has shown that in places where fluoride is added to the water, there is a decrease in the rates of tooth decay.

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can help you plan a nutritious and balanced diet that is low in sugar and good for your teeth. They can offer practical suggestions for choosing foods with less sugar and simple swaps you can make. If your child is a picky eater, they can give you a personalized plan for introducing new foods. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

Good oral health starts with healthy habits like brushing and flossing, eating nutritious foods and visiting your dental health professional regularly.

You may also be interested in:

What You Need to Know About Sugar
Recipe Makeover: Reducing Sugar in the Kitchen
Top 5 Reasons to See a Dietitian
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – February 12, 2023

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