You’ve probably heard it said over the years that what you eat has a big impact on your overall health, and in some cases, on the health of your teeth and gums. While some foods, such as sugary treats and starchy snacks, are more likely to increase your risk for cavities, you might wonder if some foods are more likely to improve your dental health. A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggested that following a diet commonly prescribed for lowering blood pressure and improving heart health can also have a positive impact on the health of your teeth and gums.
The study was conducted as part of the Veterans Affairs Dental Longitudinal Study. It involved 533 men between the ages of 47 and 90. Over the course of 20 years, the men received dental exams every three years. During the exams, the researchers specifically investigated the roots of the men’s teeth for cavities. When the gums recede, the roots of the teeth become exposed and are more likely to develop cavities.
Along with the dental exam, the 20-year study also included questionnaires regarding the men’s diets. Those who described following a diet similar to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were considerably less likely to develop root cavities.
The DASH diet is often recommended to patients who need to reduce their blood pressure. While commonly used for hypertension, it also has been shown to be helpful for patients with diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. There are two forms of the diet, a standard version, which limits sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day, and the low sodium version, which caps sodium intake at 1,500 mg per day. The low sodium version is often recommended for people with hypertension, diabetes, or who are over age 51.
Along with limiting sodium, the diet is also low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. It emphasizes eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Those who follow the diet or a similar version typically eat at least four servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables each day, and up to eight servings of whole grains. Up to three servings of oil or fat are OK per day, as well as up to five servings of nuts, legumes or seeds each week. The diet also includes up to six servings of lean protein, such as an egg, fish, or poultry, each day.
A number of food groups are limited on the DASH diet. For example, it’s recommended that people following the diet eat fewer than five treats or sweets each week. The diet also limits alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per day for men and less than one per day for women.
Although the men in the study who followed a diet that resembled the DASH eating plan were likely to have better dental health and fewer root cavities than those who didn’t, the researchers were quick to know that there wasn’t necessarily a cause and effect relationship between the two, particularly because the men were still consuming a fair amount of sugar. While the diet itself might not improve a person’s dental health, it is thought that eating a combination of simple carbs and more complex carbohydrates might help reduce a person’s risk for tooth decay and tooth loss.
Ways You Can Protect Your Teeth and Gums
While you don’t need to switch over to the DASH diet completely, taking steps to improve your eating habits can have a positive impact on your overall dental health, reducing your risk for developing gum disease or other oral problems. A number of foods, such as dairy products, can have a positive impact on the health of your mouth. Dairy products, such as cheese and milk, can help strengthen your teeth’s enamel, reducing your risk for cavities and sensitivity. Vegetables that are high in vitamin C, such as leafy greens, can also improve the health of your gums, reducing your risk for gum disease.
If you’d like to learn more about how your diet impacts the health of your mouth, periodontists Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas are happy to answer any questions you have. To schedule a consultation with the periodontists at their Miami practice, call (305) 447-1447 today.