4 ways your diet affects your oral health

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A poor diet can lead to tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and more. 

We all know your diet affect your general health, but have you ever wondered just how much the food you eat impacts your teeth and mouth? Find out the relationship between your diet and your oral health.

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Diet and healthy teeth

What you consume affects the health of the tissues in your mouth. As a result, the overall health of your mouth impacts the nutrients absorbed. Acidic food and beverages are associated with an increased risk of erosive tooth wear. With a diet low in the nutrients, your body can have a more difficult time resisting an oral infection. Since there is a direct correlation between the foods you eat and your oral health, you may want to reconsider adding tooth-friendly foods and beverages to your shopping cart.

1. Diet and tooth decay

Tooth decay is essentially the destruction of your tooth enamel, which can cause lasting damage to the teeth's structure. Every time you eat a sugary snack, your teeth are vulnerable to damage from the acids released from bacteria feeding off these sugars. The acids are created from the bacteria in plaque and break down the enamel over time. Without intervention, eventually, cavities will form.

People who regularly consume sweetened fruit drinks and sugary snacks are at a higher risk for tooth decay. However, many people don't even know just how much sugar they eat. Sugars can be found in various processed foods and snacks, but they often go under a different name. Therefore, when you're checking ingredient lists, look for words that end with 'ose'. Usually, these are sugars like sucrose, fructose, or glucose, just to name a few.

Overall, checking ingredient lists can help you determine what foods make for the best dental health choices. What and when you eat affects not only your overall health but also the health of your teeth and gums.

2. Your diet and cavities

A cavity is a hole in the tooth that comes from plaque bacteria creating acidic by-products that eat away at the tooth enamel. Foods containing carbohydrates can easily get trapped between teeth. Over time, one small cavity can grow to become much larger and destroy an entire tooth.

Cavities are sometimes painful and can create tooth sensitivities that may inhibit the consumption of foods or drinks, among other things. Some of the most noticeable symptoms signaling a cavity include:

  • A toothache

  • Pain when biting down

  • Tooth pressure

  • A pit or hole in the afflicted tooth that may be noticeable in person or mostly visible in an X-ray.

If cavities are not treated and filled, and the necessary dietary changes are not made, the hole could spread to the tooth root. In some cases, it becomes gum disease. Your tooth roots are much softer than tooth enamel, which makes them more susceptible to decay. If the root canal becomes infected, you could lose your tooth.

3. Your diet and gum health

Poor nutrition can worsen the condition of your gums. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars can lead to gum inflammation and plaque formation. Over time, this could cause:

  • Gum recession

  • An increased incidence of gum disease

  • Tooth root exposure to plaque

Gum disease is a result of the tissues that surround and support your teeth becoming infected. Some people that have gum disease may notice:

  • Bleeding gums/gums that bleed easily

  • Red, tender, or swollen gums

  • Persistent bad breath

  • Loose teeth

  • Teeth that are separating

  • A change in the way the teeth fit together when you bite

This condition is a significant cause of tooth loss for adults. Gum disease can be hard to notice at times. As a result, a lot of people don't even realize that they have it. Fortunately, a change in diet can help prevent gum disease.

4. Your diet and missing teeth

Compromised dental health, such as missing teeth, could change your functional ability to eat and, most importantly, what you eat. Missing teeth may be the consequence of severely evolved gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral ailments. Talking also becomes problematic with missing teeth. Chronic headaches become a usual occurrence for some individuals. Overall, missing teeth can significantly impact your oral health and require serious intervention to improve your quality of life.

Foods for your next grocery order

As you've read, what you put in your shopping cart can significantly influence your oral health. If your nutrition is poor, the effects may begin to show through your mouth. Your food choices can either harm your teeth or help keep them healthy and strong. Therefore, it is crucial to try and choose foods that include the essential nutrients your mouth needs. Look for foods with the following nutrients:


Be on the lookout for dairy products, orange juice, almonds, salmon, tofu, leafy greens, and more. This prime ingredient for healthy teeth helps fortify teeth and can protect tooth enamel. Your teeth are partially made from calcium compounds. Getting enough calcium each day can help protect against cavities and gum disease.


Foods rich in protein like meat, poultry, fish, beans, and eggs, are good for dental health. Protein-rich foods also include phosphorus, which is excellent for maintaining dental health. Phosphorus also aids in protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel.

High-fiber foods

Did you know fiber keeps saliva constantly flowing? Foods rich with fiber stimulate saliva production, which in turn can wash acids and food particles away from your teeth.¹ It also helps to neutralize acid, further protecting teeth from decay. Many foods rich in fiber also have vitamin C and vitamin A. Vitamin C helps with wound healing and gum health. Vitamin A is a key nutrient for building tooth enamel.

If you're trying to think of some high fiber foods to add to your grocery order, consider the following:

  • Dates

  • Raisins

  • Figs

  • Bananas

  • Apples

  • Oranges

  • Beans

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Nuts (e.g., almonds) 

Fruits and vegetables contain high fiber and high water content, which balance the sugars they include.

Whole grains

Whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice are great foods for your oral health. In addition, they're full of iron and B vitamins, which helps maintain the health of your gums. Magnesium is another ingredient found in whole grains that's helpful for our bones and teeth.

Meal timing and your oral health

It may seem like common sense, but many individuals are unaware of how much their diet affects their oral health. While our teeth are strong, they require much more than just brushing. It's important to keep in mind that teeth are always exposed to what you eat and drink. Over time, excessive exposure to damaging foods can have repercussions. It's critical that you make the right dietary choices to keep your teeth healthy and looking their best. Doing so may mean cutting back on some sugary treats and drinks.

Limiting bad food consumption

While you don't have to forego eating sugary and high-carbohydrate foods altogether, it is important to limit them. If you do eat them, be strategic about when you eat them. For instance, consuming sugary foods and drinks at night means bacteria will have hours to eat at your enamel.

If you are looking to have a sugary snack or drink, consume those items with a meal instead of a snack. The mouth produces the most saliva during a meal. Saliva's role is to wash foods from the mouth and, thus, lessen the effects of acids.

If you are looking for something small to satisfy a slight pang of hunger between meals, then consider reaching for fruit. Other good food options are a piece of cheese or a handful of nuts. For those with a habit of drinking sugary juices, try cutting down.

Change your diet and improve your oral health

A balanced diet filled with high fiber, protein, whole grains, and fortifying calcium can help preserve your oral health. Cutting down on sugary processed snacks and drinks can only bring positive results. Not only can it help your overall physical health, but it can also improve the health of your teeth and gums and help you avoid tooth decay and gum disease.

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


  1. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/nutrition/food-tips (Last accessed May 2020)


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