It saddens and angers me when I see children who aren’t being taught or given access to proper dental care. Tooth decay, sometimes referred to by professionals as dental caries, doesn’t have to happen. It can be prevented by healthy dietary habits and good oral hygiene behavior. Children should be exposed to fluoridated water and receive routine preventive oral health care that includes being taught to brush and floss their teeth.
Good eating habits and food preferences are established when children are young. Oral health is dependent on good nutrition. Poor nutrition will eventually lead to poor health, possibly obesity and tooth decay. Dental caries and periodontal disease are the most prevalent chronic, common and transmissible infectious oral conditions found in humans.
How does tooth decay occur?
Tooth decay is actually an infectious bacterial disease. The diet a child consumes plays an important role in whether dental caries develops. The more sugar and the more frequently that a child consumes sugar, the more likely the risk of developing dental caries or cavities.
Sucrose is the worst form of sugar for dental caries because it can form a long molecule called glucan. This ‘glue’ allows bacteria to attach to tooth enamel and holds bacterial acid close to the surface of teeth. Tooth decay is caused by a combination of factors: food, cavity-causing bacteria, susceptible teeth and frequent exposure to sugar. Bacteria attach to teeth and thrive in dental plaque. The bacteria use sugar to produce acid. When there is enough bacterial acid coating the tooth surface, loss of the enamel occurs.
Dietary factors that cause tooth decay
— Consuming sugar-sweetened liquids such as soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas and coffees
— Eating sticky, sweet food such as taffy or caramels maintains high sugar levels in the mouth
— Giving young children a bottle or sippy cup with juice or other sweetened liquid are at an increased risk of developing early childhood caries. Children should only have water in their bottle or sippy cup between meals.
— Providing children with sugary junk foods such as slowly dissolving candies
— Frequent consumption of sugary snacks such as cookies, cakes, candy bar type granola bars
Good nutrition on the part of the mom during pregnancy is very important for healthy development of baby teeth. The mineralization of baby teeth occurs around month three to four of gestation. If there are nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy problems such as poor enamel formation, delayed dental eruption, small tooth size and susceptibility to dental caries can occur.
Tooth loss, dentures and implants
Tooth loss and replacement with dentures can impact the ability to bite, chew and swallow food. This ultimately impacts diet quality and nutritional status. The digestion of starches begins in the mouth when foods are chewed and enzymes mix with starches. Eating with dentures is not equivalent to eating with natural teeth. The potential for nutritional deficits to lead to malnutrition in elderly denture wearers is high. Chewing capacity with regular dentures is considered to be only 20 to 25 percent that of regular teeth. People with full dentures often avoid many fresh fruits and vegetables and bite and chew larger sized particles of food.
Eating Patterns associated with decreased risk of dental caries
— Space food and beverages at least two hours apart.
— Consume fresh, whole and unprocessed foods to stimulate salivary output.
— Chew sugarless gum for a brief period of time immediately after a meal.
If dental health is of concern to you, consider attending the free See & Smile event 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, at PCHC Dental Center, 1048 Union St. The event is hosted by PCHC and Bangor Housing. Transportation is available and children are welcome to attend and tour the dental center, meet and greet staff, taste some health snacks and receive information on dental services. Information can be obtained by calling Angela Damon at 992-2152. The See & Smile event sponsors are working to ensure that area school age children have access to quality dental care.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.