Nutrition, Lifestyle and Gum Disease
We might not pay much attention to the fact as we go about our daily business, but the little lifestyle choices we make often have a much bigger impact on severe dental problems than we might imagine. Factors such as poor diet, smoking, drinking and stress are all known to have a significant impact on the development of gum disease. We often hear or read about what these things can do for our heart or our weight but probably less often in relation to gum disease.
Here we will look at some of the lifestyle factors that could encourage gum disease and how a good oral hygiene routine will go a long way to rectify your little daily wrongs.
There is a direct link between your diet and gum disease. A poor diet promotes the perfect conditions for gum disease to take hold in three ways:
- Foods containing high sugar and starches promote the production of bacteria which can be a perfect foundation upon which gum disease can thrive
- A poor diet with low nutrient intake makes the immune system sluggish and less able to fight off infections such as gum disease when they attack
- Vitamins and minerals provide the body with the building blocks to build and renew bones, muscles, blood and tissue. Low vitamin and mineral intake means that the gum tissue and bones will not be as strong as they could be, therefore more susceptible to disease.
Your body needs proper levels of nutrients to be able to fight off any infections. A person with a good diet will be much better able to fight infection than someone whose diet is low in the essential nutrients and so poor diets increase the risk of gum disease. Put this together with the fact that a poor diet often includes a lot of sugary or starchy food which promotes infection-causing bacteria in the mouth and a person with a poor diet is the perfect stomping ground for gum disease to thrive.
By making an effort to incorporate the vital nutrients that your body needs you will be helping yourself to fight off attacking bacteria all over your body, including your mouth.
Here are just some of the foods that are essential for a health maintaining diet:
- High in vitamins such as vitamin C " fresh fruit and vegetables
- Vitamin C is essential for building new cells and therefore promotes healthy gum tissue
- High in fibre " cereals, broccoli, peas, pears and wholegrain bread
- Fibre increases the flow of saliva which cleans the mouth, not allowing for harmful bacteria to build up and cause problems
- High in minerals like magnesium and zinc " fish, poultry, lean meat
- These minerals promote healthy bone which includes the teeth
- Crunchy vegetables " celery, carrot, onion (eaten raw)
- Crunchy vegetables clean the teeth and massage the gums as you eat them providing a cleaning service at the same time as providing healthy nutrients.
It probably goes without saying that foods such as pastries, cakes, sweets, chocolate, sweetened fruit juices and fizzy drinks are the types of food that are not good for preventing gum disease. Foods with a high sugar and starch content linger for longer on the teeth. This provides a breeding ground for bacteria which thrive on the sugars found in food. If a poor diet is coupled with a poor oral hygiene routine then these bacteria will continue to thrive and the high levels of bacteria could eventually lead to gum disease.
Astonishingly, smokers are as much as four times more likely than non-smokers to experience periodontal gum disease. The chemicals in tobacco smoke have a toxic effect on the gums which makes smokers more susceptible to the dangerous infection-causing bacteria. The two main effects of these toxins are plaque build-up and the restriction of blood flow to the gums; not coincidentally, two of the primary concerns in treating gum disease.
The build up of plaque on the teeth allows for bacteria to fester and if left untreated this can lead to periodontal gum disease. Smokers can avoid the build up of plaque by undertaking an extremely vigorous dental hygiene routine but this is no replacement for a smoke-free mouth.
The restriction of blood flow to the mouth is more a concern in treating existing periodontal disease in smokers. Smoking restricts the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. In the same way that this lack of oxygen affects other parts of your body, it affects the healing process following periodontal treatment; slowing the healing time significantly if not causing the healing process to fail completely.
We accept that stress causes wrinkles, grey hairs and a dodgy ticker. Stress as a cause of periodontal gum disease is a little harder to comprehend. Nevertheless, the relationship between stress and gum disease has been researched endlessly and studies are conclusive that there is a positive relationship between gum disease and stress.
The exact relationship is not yet fully understood but there are a number of factors that could be held accountable for the effects of stress on periodontal gum disease:
- Stress makes fighting off infections more difficult for the body
- Stress encourages people to take up bad habits such as alcohol and tobacco abuse. The effects of these substances are discussed elsewhere in this article.
- Stress can cause people to take their oral hygiene routine less seriously resulting in plaque accumulation " a significant factor in the development of periodontal gum disease
- Cortisol " a hormone of which we release a higher amount into the bloodstream during periods of stress, is known to encourage a more destructive form of periodontal gum disease
During stressful periods in your life it is important to remember to take care of your dental health to avoid any unnecessary infections that will bring more stress and suffering. Avoid turning to activities such as drinking and smoking that will have a negative impact on your dental health as well as the rest of your body. Instead try to take the time to get involved in healthy sources of relief such as meditation, breathing exercises and adequate sleep.
There is also a proven link between alcohol consumption and the likelihood of developing periodontal gum disease. For people who regularly abuse alcohol there is an extremely high risk of developing periodontal gum disease because of the negative effects of alcohol on teeth and gum tissue, leaving the mouth in a poor state.
The increased exposure to the sugars and acids within an alcoholic drink contributes massively to plaque formation. Furthermore, alcohol abusers, just like sufferers of stress, are less likely to pay close attention to their dental hygiene; aggravating the plaque build-up further.
With alcohol, however, there is an added aggravating factor to the promotion of a site in which bacteria can thrive. Alcohol dehydrates the body; this dehydration affects saliva production in the mouth. With saliva production restricted, any bacteria are not washed away in the normal fashion. This means that plaque formation is speeded up and bacteria are allowed to fester and run rampant, increasing the risk of damage to the mouth.
The importance of oral hygiene
Whilst it would be near impossible to avoid every single little thing that might be bad for your teeth in your daily life, you can correct some of your wrongs with a detailed and attentive oral hygiene routine.
Making sure you spend quality time morning and night with your toothbrush will ensure plaque build-up is kept to a minimum. You should brush at least twice daily without fail; after breakfast and before bed. You should also floss once daily, preferably at night, to clear the little crannies between your teeth of harmful food particles that will linger and produce bacteria.
You can also help your mouth by drinking plenty of water during the day to keep your mouth moist and able to clear away food particles before they have the chance to damage your teeth. Chewing sugar free dental chewing gum after meals can also encourage the break down of food particles that would otherwise fester for the rest of the day.
There is no better prevention for any dental problem than a good dental hygiene routine and whilst a little naughty treat here and there may just be too hard to resist; be sure not to falter when it comes to brushing and flossing after that long hard day.