The original article was first published in EzyHealth, January 2013. We have reproduced the article for those of you who may have missed it.

Patients occasionally inquire on the need for good oral health in relation to their general wellbeing. My reply is that the mouth is the starting point for our digestive system. The ability to cut, chew and swallow food is essential for our survival as well as for promoting oral and systemic health. This relationship is complex, as the nutrition we need to maintain good health can also have the potential to induce the formation of dental plaque, which may lead to teeth and gum diseases in the absence of consistently good oral hygiene.

Our diet plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of healthy teeth and gums, as well as the likelihood of us being afflicted by precancerous/cancerous lesions. Recent studies have shown links between oral health and chronic ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature birth, endocarditis, and osteoporosis. Regular dental examination makes it possible for your dentist to check for oral diseases as well as precancerous/cancerous lesions.

 

IT ALL STARTS AT THE BEGINNING

 

Studies have linked maternal nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy to an increased incidence of cleft lips in infants. Lip and palate development occurs very early during pregnancy (often between the sixth and ninth weeks of gestation). The crowns of the baby teeth also start to form during pregnancy. Teeth are very similar to bones. It has a structure that consists mainly of a lattice of calcium and phosphate crystals. Vitamins A and C have significant roles in the formation of the organic components of the tooth (e.g. keratin, collagen), while vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphate levels in the blood. Your doctor may recommend low dosage of folic acid, calcium and vitamin supplements during pregnancy if he suspects that you are not getting enough.

Majority of teeth development (except for the wisdom teeth) would have been completed by the age of 15. Parents can help to ensure healthy teeth development by adopting the following recommendations: breastfeeding during the first year of life, ensuring optimal calcium and vitamin intake by substituting with infant formula milk, leading by example in adopting a healthy balanced diet and eating habits once the child fully transitions to solid food, and moderating the intake of sugary foods (which increases the risk of tooth decay) and acidic drinks (which causes erosive damage to teeth over time).

Exposure of teeth to very low dosages of fluoride has been shown to increase the surface resistance of teeth to decay. This is due to the incorporation of fluoride ions into the tooth’s crystalline structure, which makes it more resistant to acid attack. Fluoride can be delivered by drinking water and milk, and using dentifrices, mouth rinses and tablets. It is true that excessive fluoride intake can lead to discolouration and mottling of teeth (fluorosis). Unintended ingestion of fluoride containing toothpaste is often the main cause of fluorosis. This can be circumvented by using a toothpaste with no or lowered fluoride levels, formulated for young children who tend to ingest toothpaste due to the “nice” taste or are unable to spit well.

 

CARING FOR YOURSELF

 

In our adult years, the focus gradually shifts towards the maintenance of healthy gums, as our teeth would have already completed their formation. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States suggests that one out of every two American adults aged 30 and above is afflicted by gum disease. This is a cause for concern because tooth loss has been shown to reduce the nutritional intake of the elderly as they change their dietary habits to cope with the lack of teeth or the use of dentures.

Chronic alcohol intake and betel nut chewing have been linked to the development of precancerous and cancerous lesions of the mouth, tongue and throat. The incidence is amplified when a person is exposed to other lifestyle risks factors such as tobacco products. Vitamins A, C and E have been suggested to reduce the risk of developing cancerous lesions because of their antioxidant properties. While one cannot deny their roles in normal health, the jury is still out as to how effective they are and what is the optimal dosage to harness these protective benefits. Perhaps a more sensible approach is to ensure that our diet consist of at least two servings of vegetables and/or fruits during each meal.

 

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

 

Good oral health is achievable if we are willing to take responsibility for ourselves with regard to our diet and personal hygiene. Most of us will benefit from the care of a dentist who is able to understand our needs and peculiarities. This partnership is essential if we want to mitigate the “fear factor” and costs associated with complex dental treatments. Dietary supplements may be beneficial in situations where normal intake is inadequate or when there is additional physiological demand (e.g. pregnancy or recovery after a health related incident). It is recommended that you seek advice from a registered healthcare professional prior to embarking on any regimen.