When it comes to diet and dental health, most people think of sugar first; even kids know that “sugar rots your teeth.” But, when it comes to periodontal disease and gum health, there’s a lesser known villain – inflammation. The bacteria in plaque triggers an inflammatory response that leads to gum disease.
With early stage periodontal disease, known as gingivitis, gums can become swollen and red, and may bleed. If gingivitis is left untreated, it becomes periodontal disease. This occurs when bacteria infect little pockets between the gums and the teeth, causing gums to pull away and loosen the teeth. In advanced cases, the infection can start breaking down the bone underneath the teeth, causing the teeth to fall out. Given the severity and the fact that almost half of all adults over the age of 30 have some form of it, periodontal disease is one of the biggest threats to dental health.
If the thought of bleeding gums and losing your teeth isn’t frightening enough, Inflammation connects periodontal infection to metabolic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Sugar is definitely a part of that connection, but there are also some lesser known culprits that increase your risk of gum disease.
- Soda – This sweet beverage is one of the worst drinks for healthy teeth and gums. While regular soda is full of sugar, diet varieties contains phosphoric and citric acid. Acid breaks down tooth enamel, allowing bacteria to grow and the bacteria in plaque love sugar, converting it to acid and leading to further tooth and gum damage. Additionally, caffeinated sodas are especially bad for gums, as caffeine can cause dry mouth. This prevents the enamel-protecting proteins and minerals in saliva from repairing the early signs of gum disease.
- Potato Chips – Next on the list is soda’s BFF, potato chips. This addictive, starchy snack has a texture that becomes gummy after chewing. The resulting substance lingers in your mouth getting stuck in your teeth and causing acid-producing bacteria. Additionally, starchy foods can dry out your mouth. Because saliva helps repair early signs of gum disease, when your mouth becomes dry, it lowers your saliva level and keeps saliva from doing its job.
- Coffee – We know, you’re probably thinking, “Coffee! Is nothing sacred?” Unfortunately, your morning habit is doing more than waking you up. Coffee helps mouth bacteria create acids that result in enamel and tooth erosion, making teeth brittle and thin. It also dries out your mouth, blocking saliva from repairing the early signs of tooth decay, gum disease, or oral infections as noted above.
- Popcorn – Whether from a microwave or the movie theater, popcorn has become a go-to snack for many. Unlike the other foods and drinks on this list, the risk with popcorn is in the makeup of the food itself. The husks can easily become lodged between teeth and in the spaces between the gum and tooth. An embedded popcorn husk can create an abscess, a painful infection in the gum that can lead to serious health issues, gum disease, and tooth loss. If a husk is stuck tightly, an interdental brush (available at most drug stores) can be an effective tool to loosen and remove it. However, if you happen to get a husk stuck in your teeth and can’t get it out, see your dentist right away.
- Sports Drinks – Given the recent increase in sports drinks on the market, one might think they’re a healthy way to hydrate, but sports drinks contain acids and sugar. The acid in sports drinks makes your teeth more vulnerable to bacteria, which feeds off the excess sugar in these beverages. Bacteria can then sneak into the cracks of your tooth enamel and cause tooth decay. Untreated tooth decay can lead to cavities, gum disease or even periodontal disease.
We know it’s hard to maintain a nutritious diet all of the time but being conscious of what you eat and drink doesn’t mean you have to completely give up the foods you love. Go ahead and indulge on occasion (or, when it comes to coffee, once a day) but do your best to mitigate the damage by rinsing after you eat or drink.
We believe that patient education is a key factor in helping you keep your teeth healthy and avoid gum disease, so please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about gum disease or your overall oral health. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact our practice.