How Diet Affects Your Oral Health and Smile
Nutrition and oral health share a relationship by promoting health development and maintaining the mouth's tissues and natural protective mechanisms. They have a close relationship according to one's diet and health. Modern diets are vastly different and nutritionally diverse from those of our ancient ancestors, impacting oral health. Our ancestors ate primarily whole, unprocessed foods; however, today's diets are full of processed and refined foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrients. This shift in dietary habits has profoundly affected our oral and systemic health, leading to chronic illnesses and the progression of dental decay.
"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates
The ancient diets of people worldwide have long been a source of fascination. People living during different eras ate nutritious foods unique to their culture. New York Times bestselling author Dan Buettner discovered the five blue zones where people live the longest and healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. (1) The people of the Ogliastra region of Sardinia, the heart of the blue zone, have preserved their ancient foodways and have the longest-lived men in the world. (Young Forever book) (2)
In an interesting conversation I had with an archeologist at the Newcastle Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, she explained how they determine age and identify the diet by "scraping the bits off the teeth" to analyze the isotopes, carbon and nitrogen, to deconstruct the diet. Ancient diets often included grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and animal products, providing a variety of essential vitamins and minerals.
The lack of sugar and processed foods meant that these ancient people's oral and dental health was better than ours today. According to New York Times bestselling author of "Food Rules" Michael Pollan, "People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed foods." (3)
Standard American Diet (SAD)
Although tooth decay was still an issue in ancient times, it was not as prevalent as it is now. Ultra-processed foods can damage our teeth, increasing the risk of cavities, gum disease, and enamel erosion. Modern diets are having a negative impact on our oral health, and it is imperative to be aware of these risks when making dietary choices. Diets rich in carbohydrates promote acid-producing bacteria lowering saliva's pH level.
The SAD way of eating does not provide the essential nutrients essential to maintaining optimal oral and systemic health. Eating a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure good oral health, even if it means foregoing some of the modern conveniences that have become commonplace in our lives.
Crowded Teeth (Malocclusion)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), crowding is defined as misaligning teeth due to a lack of space to erupt in the correct position. (4) The relationship between our biology and lifestyle explains the affliction of cavities, occlusion issues such as crowding, and impacted wisdom teeth. Teeth crowding is becoming increasingly common due to our modern diet and malnutrition. According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, malnutrition is a multifactorial disease related to crowding in permanent dentition among mouth-breathing adolescents. (4)
Malocclusions can be associated with airway dysfunction, and accompanying poor facial development are open bites, cross bites, impacted teeth, speech deficits, and tooth crowding. (5) Mouth breathers tend to have a higher incidence of cavities due to a lack of saliva (hyposalivation). Narrow arches and overcrowded teeth may not allow for proper tongue posture and proper nasal breathing. Adequate space for tongue placement will allow a person to breathe and sleep better.
Crowded teeth can have other significant repercussions, such as the accumulation of plaque biofilm (the sticky substance that acquires on your teeth and feels like a sweater if not moved in a timely manner), leading to calculus (tartar) formation. Crowded teeth are more difficult to clean and can lead to inflammation of the gingival tissue (gums).
Orthodontic treatment via traditional brackets or clear aligner therapy are options to align your teeth in proper occlusion for optimal chewing (mastication) to avoid excessive attrition on the teeth. This excessive removal of enamel (tooth wear) through chewing while not properly aligned can lead to tooth sensitivity.
Eating a balanced diet of unprocessed foods can help keep your teeth healthy and reduce the risk of crowding and cavities in the mouth. All of this highlights the importance of a healthy way of eating and proper tooth alignment for optimal oral health.
2. Young Forever book
3. Sproesser, G., Ruby, M.B., Arbit, N. et al. Understanding traditional and modern eating: the TEP10 framework. BMC Public Health 19, 1606 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7844-4
4. F. Thomaz, B. A., T. Cangussu, M. C., & O. Assis, A. M. (2010). Is Malnutrition Associated with Crowding in Permanent Dentition? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(9), 3531-3544. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph7093531
5. Tamkin, J. (2020). Impact of airway dysfunction on dental health. Bioinformation, 16(1), 26-29. https://doi.org/10.6026/97320630016026