Quick Tips for Dental Problems

In addition to brushing and flossing, a healthful diet, with natural or added fluoride, protects teeth from decay and keeps the gums healthy. Tooth decay (cavities and dental caries) and gum disease are caused by colonies of bacteria that coat the teeth with a sticky film called plaque. If plaque is not brushed away, these bacteria break down the sugars and starches in foods to produce acids that wear away the tooth enamel. The plaque also hardens into tartar, which can lead to gum inflammation, or gingivitis.

A well-balanced diet provides the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients essential for healthy teeth and gums. Fluoride, found in foods, water, and treated water supplies, has been determined safe and effective in preventing cavities, reducing rates by 40 to 60%.

Another common dental problem is canker sores, which appear as painful, white or yellowish raised spots. Sores are scattered through the mouth or in large clusters. Often, canker sores heal after two weeks, but larger ulcers may last months and be accompanied by fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. The cause of canker sores is unknown, but doctors believe they’re related to stress or trauma.

Nutrition Connection

Eating the right foods plays a big part in having healthy teeth and gums. Follow these guidelines:

-Eat foods rich in calcium. Calcium supports healthy teeth and gums. Low-fat dairy products, fortified soy and rice beverages, canned salmon or sardines (with bones), almonds, and dark green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of calcium.

-Eat foods rich in vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Find it in milk, fortified soy and rice beverages, and fatty fish such as salmon.

-Eat nutrient-dense foods. Nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin C, and beta-carotene are also essential to dental health. Phosphorus, found in meat, fish, dairy products and eggs, and magnesium, found in whole grains, spinach, and legumes, are necessary for the formation of tooth enamel. Vitamin A helps build strong bones and teeth. Good sources of beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, include orange-colored fruits and vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C, found in cruciferous vegetables and citrus fruits, prevents bleeding gums.


Look for gum with xylitol Within 5 minutes after finishing a meal, chew gum for at least 5 minutes. Gum sweetened with xylitol helps to counter harmful bacteria in your mouth, which promote cavities.

-End your meals with the right foods. When consumed at the end of a meal, aged cheeses help prevent cavities. In addition to providing essential nutrients, hard fibrous fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots and celery also stimulate Fresh fruit such as apples stimulate saliva flow, which decreases mouth acidity and washes away food particles. They also reduce buildup of cavity-causing bacteria.

-Avoid sticky items such as dried fruit. Avoid starchy and sugary foods. Sugary foods may seem obviously linked to cavities, but starchy foods, such as sweetened cereals or cakes, also make teeth prone to decay. The starches mix with amylase, an enzyme in saliva, to create an acid bath that erodes enamel.

-Try a diet of bland, soft food. If painful canker sores interfere with eating, try sipping liquid or pureed foods through a straw. Foods that cause the least pain include yogurt, custard, rice, and poached chicken. Avoid salty and acidic food.

-Check to see if your water supply is fluoridated. Not all municipalities fluoridate their water supply, so contact your municipal office. Cavities can be prevented by giving children fluoride in the first few years of life. Fluoride is supplied through fluoridated water, beverages made with fluoridated water, tea, and some fish, as well as many brands of toothpaste and some mouthwash. Fluoride supplements are available for children who don’t have access to fluoridated drinking water, but note that excess fluoride consumption can cause mottling of the teeth.


Children are particularly vulnerable to tooth decay because their teeth are still forming enamel and haven’t finished hardening. Parents should:

• Provide a good diet throughout childhood

• Brush children’s teeth until they’re mature enough to do a thorough job by themselves (usually by 6 or 7 years old)

 • Supervise twice-daily brushing and flossing thereafter

• Never put babies or toddlers to bed accompanied by a bottle of milk (which contains the natural sugar lactose), juice, or other sweet drink

• Never dip pacifiers in honey or syrup

• Eat sensibly during pregnancy to make sure that the child’s teeth get off to a good start; particularly important is calcium, which helps the baby to form strong teeth and bones, and vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium

Beyond the Diet

Because a chronically dry mouth also contributes to decay, it’s helpful to incorporate the following strategies to stimulate saliva and take good care of your teeth and gums:

-Chew gum. Sugarless gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which decreases acid and flushes out food particles.

-Rinse and brush after eating. Rinsing your mouth and brushing your teeth after eating are important strategies to prevent cavities.

-Always brush your teeth before going to bed. Saliva flow slows during sleep; going to bed without brushing the teeth is especially harmful.

-Check your medications. Certain drugs cut down saliva flow, such as clonidine, which is used to treat high blood pressure and ADHD in kids, and heart medications atropine and propranolol.

-Take care of your gums. Left untreated, gum diseases such as gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, an advanced infection that can cause teeth to loosen and fall out. People on medications such as chemotherapy drugs or steroids are particularly at risk for gum disease, as well as those who have diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, gum disease has also been linked to endocarditis, a condition where bacteria enters the bloodstream.

-See a dentist every 6 months. Regular checkups keep teeth and gums healthy.
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