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This week is Dental Health Week – a week dedicated to educating Australians about the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene.

Oral hygiene isn’t just about having sparkly white pearlers. Instead, oral health can have a systemic affect on health.

Specifically, poor oral health is linked to increased chronic disease risk such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disease.

Talk about diet and oral health is often limited to making sure we get enough calcium while limiting our sugar intake, both of which are important but not all we can do!

Below I am discussing these factors and what else you can add to your diet, to help you achieve great oral health.

Sugar
Most of us already know excess or regularly sugar intake can increase our risk of tooth decay. This is because bacteria, which reside on our teeth, eat the sugar we consume and turn it into acid. This acid can then cause our teeth to weaken and decay.

Being sugar savvy and understanding which foods contain hidden sugar is important.

Foods can contains natural sugars and/or added sugars. Examples of natural sugars are fructose (eg found in fruit), lactose (eg found in dairy) and glucose and sucrose (eg found in onions). Added sugars are used to sweeten, flavour and/or preserve foods and can come under many names including:

  • cane sugar
  • raw sugar
  • white and brown sugar
  • fructose
  • honey
  • dextrose
  • malt and maple syrup
  • molasses
  • corn syrup
  • artificial sweeteners

Added sugars pose a concern when we are not aware of them and end consuming a large quantity over the course of the day. The best defence against added sugars is being a food detective and scanning the labels of foods you are buying. If you are buying foods, which contain sugar, always opt for a maximum of 10g per 100g of the food, preferably less.

Calcium and Phosphorus

Calcium and phosphorous are both important to strengthen enamel, which protects teeth against erosion and decay. Calcium and phosphorus are found in dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) and this is why dairy products are recommended for oral health.

If you don’t consume dairy, there are other ways to get these foods, such as:

  • Calcium: almonds, tofu (set with calcium), salmon (with bones), broccoli, bok choy
  • Phosphorus: fish, eggs, nuts/seeds, legumes and wholegrains

Vitamin C, Folate and Zinc

Deficiency in Vitamin C, folate and zinc can increase risk of periodontal disease because they help with gum integrity and collagen production. This means, it’s important to be consuming a wide range of foods rich in these vitamins and minerals daily.

Food sources of vitamin C include:

  • berries, kiwi fruit, papaya, pineapple (be cautious of the acid, rinse mouth after eating)
  • capsicum, tomato, cauliflower

Food sources of zinc include:

  • nuts and seeds
  • seafood and read meat
  • wholegrains and legumes

Food sources of folate include

  • green leafys, avocado, asparagus, spinach and broccoli
  • edamame beans, lentils
  • mango and oranges

Vitamin A, Vitamin E and Beta-carotene

Similar to the above vitamins and minerals, it’s also important to consume adequate Vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene because they are reported to help maintain gingival and immune integrity.

Food sources Vitamin A include:

  • beef liver, cheese, milk, chicken
  • eggs, salmon, tuna,
  • baked beans, pistachio nuts

Food sources Vitamin E include:

  • wheat germ
  • sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts
  • avocado, red capsicum,

Food sources beta-carotene include:

  • sweet potato, carrot, capsicum
  • kale, spinach, broccoli
  • paprika, cayenne

Overall, eating a well balanced diet, rich in a wide variety of micronutrient rich foods while limiting sugar intake, will go a long way to supporting oral health along with overall wellbeing.