It isn’t just ice cream and sugary drinks that can cause erosion and decay of teeth says Louise Bambrick, our dental hygienist.
Although the sun may still be shining and the occasional bit of warmth may still be left, there is little doubt that we are entering the colder part of the year. It can be a beautiful time, with the Autumn leaves and the snowy Winter landscapes ahead, but along with the weather, many of our habits will also change, and not always for the good.
What we eat and drink affects our health, and that includes the health of our teeth and gums as well as our body in general. Whilst the hotter weather usually sees us eat lighter meals, we also often consume a higher number of potentially tooth damaging food and drinks, such as ice creams and fizzy and sugary drinks. Although we are unlikely to consume anywhere near as many of these in the colder months, they are often replaced by food and drinks that are equally damaging.
At the Foxhall Dental Practice, myself and the hygienist team do our best to educate people on how to prevent dental problems from arising, through better oral care. Cleaning by better brushing and flossing plays a big part in this, but so does diet. Foods that harm the enamel on our teeth mean that they are less well protected from decay than if the enamel remains strong and healthy. Excessive starchy and sugary foods also increases the risk of gum disease as these provide fuel for the bacteria that contribute to it.
In addition to an increased risk of decay, when the enamel wears down, it also exposes the underlying layer, known as the dentin layer. This is a porous material that leaves the nerves within our teeth more exposed. When this happens, an increased sensitivity is likely to be noticed. This can be quite uncomfortable, especially when consuming hot or cold products.
Foods to avoid
Whilst ice cream sales may well drop during the winter months, there are still plenty of foods that can damage teeth that will replace it. The darker days often leave us feeling more tired and needing a bit of a ‘boost’. When energy levels start to drop, we often reach for something that feels comforting to eat and which gives us a quick dose of energy, nearly always through the sugar content in the product. A chocolate bar to get us over the finishing line at work may taste good, but it will stick to your teeth, with much of the sugar remaining there until you clean your teeth the last thing at night.
We shouldn’t forget also about the hidden sugars that are found in many ready meals. Although we expect higher levels of sugar in cakes and desserts, we may be less aware of the sugars that are added to savoury foods, both for flavour and preservation purposes.
What should you eat?
Because of the cold, our bodies tend to need more fuel during the colder months, but it is important that we use the correct fuel to stay warm. Generally speaking, foods that are good for oral health are often also beneficial for the body in general. Below, we offer a few suggestions to help you.
If you generally just grab a coffee and a slice of toast on your way to work, you are likely to be hungry during the morning. The muffins, pecan slices and other similar breakfast snacks at your local coffee shop may be just too tempting. Add what are very often extremely high sugar ‘special’ coffees to that and you have almost certainly exceeded your recommended daily sugar intake, and all by mid morning! Try to allow a bit more time in the morning and have a healthy breakfast such as porridge or even bacon and eggs if you enjoy a cooked breakfast. You may wish to grill the bacon and poach your eggs if you wish to reduce the fat content.
Lunchtime is generally easier for most of us. The ever popular sandwich should usually be relatively low in sugar but do watch the dressing though! Some of these can contain significant amounts of sugars. Again, try to avoid high sugar coffees or other beverages. If you need to rehydrate during your lunch break, water or zero sugar beverages are still arguably the best ways to do so. If you do need a hot drink, try to drink a regular tea of coffee rather than one with whipped cream, marshmallows or syrups added to them.
Although it can be tempting to opt for a ‘ping’ meal that takes just 3 minutes in the microwave; in just a few additional minutes it is easy to cook your own meal that is much healthier, and very often tastier. There are many cookbooks available for people with little time (or energy) and foods such as pasta take minutes to cook a delicious quick meal.
However healthily you eat, it should be remembered that virtually all foods will contribute to enamel erosion or tooth decay if not cleaned from your teeth, as they will gradually break down. The bacteria that feed off the residual food particles will soon start to damage your teeth and affect your gums.
Eating a tooth friendly diet this winter will help you to keep your teeth in great shape over the colder months. Don’t forget to come and see myself and the hygienist team at our Ipswich practice too, for your regular scale and polish. Between us, we can help to ensure that your teeth stay both clean and healthy!
Dental and hygienist appointments at the Foxhall Dental Practice can be made by calling our Ipswich clinic on 01473 258396.