We’re bombarded with healthy-eating and diet advice these days, but there’s little point obsessing about calories, or following the latest celebrity-led fad, if it means paying a price elsewhere – including damaged teeth and gums.
It might seem like a cruel twist, but dentists are reporting a rise in problems caused by so-called healthy foods. It’s even affecting children, with a report published by the Royal College of Surgeons this week stating record numbers of under-fives are having rotten teeth removed – with fruity snacks among the culprits.
So what are the health trends and diets causing damage, and what can you do to avoid it?
Hot water and lemon
Starting the day with a hot water and fresh lemon – a traditional detox method – is seeing a popularity resurgence right now, with fans boasting flatter stomachs and glowing complexions as a result. But Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at SuperfoodUK.com, warns: “Watch out for the advice on drinking warm lemon juice in the mornings. Lemon juice can cause problems with the enamel on teeth. It is great to have warm water with lemon – but,” she suggests, “drink it through a straw to help prevent tooth damage.”
Zero calories for a satisfying crunch – but munching ice cubes isn’t as harmless as it seems. “Some people add ice to their drinks to increase their hydration levels. This is great and anything which increases water intake is good, but don’t crunch or bite on the ice. This is a common habit, but can leave your teeth vulnerable to damage,” says Shona. “Let the ice melt and sip your drink to help increase your hydration levels.”
One of the more recent celeb-backed trends, the Sirtfood Diet focuses on ingredients rich in ‘sirtuin activators’, said to keep cells healthy when under stress and aid in metabolic function – and coffee and red wine are on the menu. “Drinks such as coffee and red wine are some of the worst culprits for teeth staining,” notes Dr Sameer Patel, Clinical Director at specialist dental and orthodontic practice, elleven.
“This staining’s amplified when consumed on a regular basis, as tannin compounds build-up and causes teeth to turn yellowish. To avoid the problem, rinse the mouth with water after consumption, to wash away tannins.”
Packed full of health-boosting antioxidants, calorie and fat-free, it’s little wonder green tea has become so popular. But, while not as bad as coffee, it can cause staining. “Make sure you don’t swish the tea around your mouth – just drink it straight down,” advises Shona.
Fruit smoothies and juices
It’s nonsense to demonise fruit – a vital source of nutrients and fibre – but the surge in popularity of juicing and smoothies, in regimes promising speedy weight-loss and detoxing, has impacted the nation’s dental health, leading to a rise in enamel erosion, sensitivity and decay.
“Natural sugars can erode tooth enamel and lead to decay,” says Sameer. “Fruit’s natural sugar, fructose, is a common cause of cavities as the bacteria in the mouth feed on it, so using a straw and keeping your mouth refreshed with regular glasses of water after consumption, is key”. Shona adds: “If you do have a fruit juice, drink it through a straw to help prevent this damage. Even better – swap to a vegetable smoothie.” This often applies to sports drinks, too.
Consuming too much natural sugar can also be a factor in poor gum health. “Diets which promote a high sugar intake can cause insulin levels to peak and then plummet which, over time, alters the structure of collagen in the body and in the long-term can affect your gums, as it’s collagen fibres that hold your teeth in place,” says Sameer.
“To limit damage, drink juices through a straw and try to wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth [after eating/drinking]. It’s also important to ensure you’re brushing teeth up to the gum line, to remove trapped food and bacteria.”
Drastically cutting calories, as well as following a high-protein/low-carb diet, can both cause bad breath – due to chemicals, called keytones, being released when you force your body into the fat-burning state of ketosis (remember when Atkins first got popular and everyone was talking about this?).
Good oral hygiene helps keep bad breath at bay, but if it’s down to your diet, Sameer advises: “Ketosis is brought on entirely by your diet and unfortunately no amount of flossing and brushing will combat the smell, so think twice before cutting out carbs completely and stick to healthy ones, such as wholemeal pasta and wholemeal bread to keep bad breath at bay.”
It’s not just a case of what you do eat, but what you don’t eat – and falling into the trap of constant dieting, calorie-cutting and eliminating food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies, including vitamins, iron and calcium, which are all important for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
A balanced diet, and 2 litres of water a day, is the best bet, along with good quality supplements if your diet is lacking. If you do want to lose weight, slow and steady wins the race.
Has your diet affected your oral health? Tell us in the comments below.