The Effects of Nutrition on Your Teeth
The role of nutrition on your oral health is twofold. First of all nutrients from food contribute to the health of your mouth and development of teeth. Second, eating habits have a direct effect on the formation of cavities.
Baby teeth begin to form at 2 months of gestation, and permanent teeth begin to form before birth as well. Therefore, a pregnant mother’s nutrition directly supplies her baby with the building materials for their teeth. Severe nutrient deficiencies during pregnancy can therefore result in mouth malformations, delayed tooth eruption, compromised tooth integrity, and teeth that are more susceptible to cavities. Mineralization of teeth begins as early as 4 months of gestation and continues into adolescence as the roots of permanent teeth are completed. Nutrient imbalances during this time can result in teeth with a diminished ability to withstand cavities, and can interfere with enamel formation causing hypoplasia or hypocalcification. The most important nutrients for tooth development and maintenance are vitamins A, C, and D as well as calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride. See Table I below for the direct effects of specific nutrient deficiencies on tooth development.
One’s eating habits also effect the teeth. The plaque on our teeth harbor bacteria that ferment dietary carbohydrates and produce acid as a byproduct. Streptocuccus mutans, the bacteria that causes cavities, prefers sucrose which happens to be the most common sugar consumed in our diets. Each time we eat or drink the pH of our plaque begins to drop. At a pH below 5.5 the acids begin to demineralize the enamel on our teeth and dissolve tooth structure. This can last for 20-30 minutes until our saliva can neutralize the acidity of plaque. Furthermore, in areas with deep pits and grooves, like the biting surfaces of our teeth, the pH may drop to as low as 4.0 and last for more than an hour. Cavities are formed as a result of carbohydrate exposure and are not necessarily dependent on the amount of sugars or starches consumed, but more on the frequency of exposure. Therefore, a single exposure to a large amount of sugary foods is less likely to cause a cavity than multiple exposures to a small amount of sugar throughout the day.
The position of cavity causing foods in a meal also has a direct effect on if it will actually cause a cavity. For example, if you eat a sticky, sugary cinnamon roll it will introduce carbohydrates to the cavity causing bacteria in your mouth and lower the pH. But if you follow that up by eating a piece of cheese, the pH will rise far above the critical 5.5 level, eliminating the bacteria’s ability to cause a cavity. Also foods that stimulate saliva secretion (cheese, salt, and raw fruits and vegetables) help to clear away the cavity causing foods. Take a look at Table II to get an idea of foods that can easily cause a cavity, and those that help prevent them.
Source: American Dental Hygiene Society. http://www.adha.org/ce-course-7
Table I: Effects of Nutrient Deficiencies on Tooth Development
Effect on Teeth
Delayed tooth eruption
Reduced tooth size
Decreased enamel solubility
Salivary gland dysfunction
Decreased epithelial tissue development
Impaired tooth formation
Craniofacial and oral clefts (excess Vit. A)
Vitamin D/ calcium/ phosphorus
Lowered plasma calcium
Compromised tooth integrity
Delayed eruption patterns
Irregular dentin formation
Dental pulpal alterations
Impairs enamel remineralization
Increased demineralization in presence of organic acids.
Salivary gland dysfunction
Table II: Characteristics Of Foods That Can Cause Or Fight Cavities
Can Cause a Cavity
Can Prevent a Cavity
High fermentable carbohydrate content (starch, sugars, or a mixture)
Breaks into small pieces in the mouth
Causes pH to fall below 5.5
Relatively high protein
Moderate amounts of fat
Minimal amounts of carbohydrate
High concentration of calcium and phosphorus
pH greater than 6
Stimulates saliva Secretion