Yes, I am one of the super fun dentists who hands out pencils and sugar-free lollipops on Halloween and asks if you floss within the first five minutes of meeting you. I just love teeth! And I love helping my patients (and friends, and family, and dogs) keep their teeth healthy and strong.
Most people don’t know that the bacteria in the mouth is a risk factor for a number of cancers, including pancreatic cancer and esophageal cancer. Also, periodontal disease is connected to artherosclerotic vascular disease (think heart attacks and strokes), pulmonary disease, diabetes, complications in pregnancy (pre-term births and low birth weight infants), osteoporosis, and kidney disease. A dental infection even has the potential to result in death by spreading to the brain!
So, with that in mind, I want to share some basic and important strategies on how to eat to avoid cavities because a lot of serious problems may start with just a simple cavity.
Limit the number of exposures to an acidic environment.
What does that mean? Don’t snack. The mouth has a neutral pH, and every time you consume complex carbohydrates (most foods and drinks), the pH of the mouth drops to an acidic level where your teeth are vulnerable to decay. Your saliva requires 30 minutes to return your mouth to neutrality following each exposure.
Shorten the duration of time your teeth are in an acidic environment.
Translation? Don’t sip on your coffee (or anything except for water, and preferably alkaline water). Consider the scenario where you sip on your coffee for an hour each morning— you are basically having a party for the bacteria that causes cavities for that entire hour plus the 30 minutes that your saliva requires to return your mouth to neutrality. On the other hand, if you drink your coffee with breakfast or in a short amount of time, you are reducing the number of minutes that the bacteria has to attack your teeth.
Wait to brush.
Yes, I’m sorry but you were doing it wrong all these years. You do NOT want to brush immediately following eating and instead want to wait 30 minutes. Why? While the oral cavity has an acidic pH, the teeth are porous and brushing may result in erosion of the enamel. Enamel is the protective outermost layer of the tooth and even stronger than bone, so it’s very important to keep strong. Alternative? Rinse with water.
End a meal with cheese.
The Italians are so smart (yes my last name is De Vito ;-)). Cheese helps to neutralize the mouth faster - hard cheeses in particular!
The same recommendations apply to children except that children definitely require more snacks throughout the day compared to adults. Snacks should be cheeses, nuts, vegetables, and whole fruits while juices and gummies are to be avoided altogether (no gummy vitamins either- instead opt for drops or hard chewables).
Moral of the story? Oral health is more important than you thought, and there are steps you can take every day to protect your teeth. So think twice about what you eat and drink, and please, please, please go to the dentist every six months!
This post was written by Janice De Vito Munir, a pediatric dentist in the DMV area. Janice received her doctorate in dental medicine from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. She also attended Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a masters in public health.