In modern Western culture, the ‘nutrition and wellness’ industry is teeming with continuous revolving doors of trends, fads and superfoods. However, the science of fundamental human nutrition as changed very little; and still comes down to ensuring adequate intake of the right combination of essential minerals and vitamins. Your mouth can say a lot about what you’re eating, and your dentist may be the first person to spot potential nutritional imbalances. This month, we are discussing the oral signs of nutrient deficiencies and thus what to consider when you make changes to your diet.
Nutritional deficiencies result when there is an imbalance between what the body needs and what it is getting. Because your body cannot make minerals, they must come from your diet. Minerals are therefore essential nutrients and they are all essential to life; without them you won’t be able to function properly, grow or procreate.1
Nutritional deficiencies limit the body’s ability to fight disease and in many cases the mouth is the first line of defence, as healthy gum tissue and saliva are crucial in fending off invading pathogens. The sensitivity of oral tissue can be particularly telling regarding deficiencies in folic acid, zinc and iron. Other conditions, such as diabetes and infection can also show symptoms in the mouth. As such, your dentist may be the first member of your health care team to notice potential nutritional problems.
The following is a guide to the most important vitamins and minerals for the health of one’s mouth:
- Calcium. Your teeth and jaws are made mostly of calcium. Without enough calcium in your diet, you risk developing gum disease and tooth decay. Calcium is found in many foods and liquids, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, beans, and oysters.
- Iron. Iron deficiency can cause your tongue to become inflamed, and sores can form inside your mouth. Iron is found in many foods, including liver and red meat. Other iron-rich foods include bran cereals, some nuts, and spices.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin). A lack of vitamin B3 can cause bad breath and canker sores in the mouth. To boost your B3 levels, eat chicken and fish.
- Vitamins B12 and B2 (riboflavin). You also can develop mouth sores when you do not consume enough of the vitamins B12 and B2. Red meat, chicken, liver, pork, fish, as well as dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, are good sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B2 is found in foods like pasta, bagels, spinach, and almonds.
- Vitamin C. Too little vitamin C can lead to bleeding gums and loose teeth. Sweet potatoes, raw red peppers, and oranges are great sources of vitamin C.
- Vitamin D. It is very important to consume enough vitamin D because it helps your body absorb calcium. A diet lacking or low in vitamin D will cause burning mouth syndrome. Symptoms of this condition include a burning mouth sensation, a metallic or bitter taste in the mouth, and dry mouth. Drink milk, and eat egg yolks and fish to increase your vitamin D intake.2
Overall, patients can improve their oral health and reduce the risk of oral infections by eating a balanced diet based on the well-known Food Pyramid (which is now a pie chart!). The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of foods from the five major food groups—grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and meats. Vitamin and mineral supplements also can help preserve periodontal health and boost overall health and well-being, but be sure to only supplement when truly required. Taking a multitude of supplements and vitamins will only overload the liver and kidneys and risk long term disease of these critical organs. Not only are there limits to what we can absorb, but too much of any mineral can also result in health problems. Therefore, be sure to always consult with a qualified health practitioner before adding supplements to your diet.
Diet is an important part of an individual’s medical history, and patients should always inform their dentist if they adhere to vegetarian or other special diets. That’s why, at Bite Dental we take the time to talk about your lifestyle and diet in order to holistically assess factors that may be affecting the health and management of your mouth. At Bite, we treat our patient’s as our friends and look beyond ‘just the teeth’ in every dental examination.
- Food Nutrition Table: Minerals (2016). Author unknown. Found at URL: http://www.foodnutritiontable.com/whatiswhat/minerals/
- Academy of General Dentistry. ‘Know Your Teeth’. Updated June 2016. Article found at URL: http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/