When your dentist peers inside your mouth, he sees more than just the health of your teeth and gums. The state of your oral cavity can speak volumes about your overall health and diet. Your diet has a lot to do with treating or preventing diseases of the mouth.
If there is an infection or inflammation, your mouth may be trying to tell you it isn’t being fed right. Processed foods, such as refined carbohydrates and sugars will just feed the infection. Other nutritionally void foods can harm your dental health by tipping the balance between oxidants and antioxidants.
Stellar oral health can fight or even prevent inflammation and infections. That’s just what we want since inflammation and infections zap your immune system of valuable resources.
There’s the obvious oral hygiene practices: brush teeth at least twice daily, floss daily, tame your sweet tooth, stop smoking, and get regular dental check-ups.
What else could your teeth and gums use for optimum health? Many diseases of the oral cavity, especially gum disease (better known as periodontal disease), are associated with low levels of nutrients and antioxidants. Here are some nutrients to sink your teeth into:
Bathe your gums in a cup of organic green tea daily. Green tea catechins, an active ingredient and polyphenol found in green tea, can kill destructive acid-producing bacterial cells that cause cavities and break down teeth, harm your gums, and even cause halitosis (a fancy word for bad breath).
You saliva is more than just slimy water in your mouth. It’s a storehouse of enzymes, electrolytes, hormones, and even antioxidants. The polyphenols from green tea can help supply the antioxidants naturally found in healthy saliva.
Alternate your green tea intake with the fully fermented version of the same plant – black tea – since it’s just as effective at stopping bacterial growth. Black tea can help keep plaque build-up under control by preventing bacteria from attaching to plaque that already exists. Since green tea leaves are unfermented, though, they still get the gold star for highest concentration of polyphenolic antioxidants.
This anthocyanin-rich fruit makes your teeth act much like a non-stick skillet – it can stop bacteria from sticking to and colonizing on your teeth. This berry of the bog tames the exaggerated inflammation that periodontal disease causes around gums and that eats away at gum tissue, weakening tooth structure.
Beware, cranberry products like dried, candied cranberries or cranberry sauce will only hit your teeth with more sugar. Fresh cranberries with no added sugar, however, can be roasted with squash or thrown in a whole grain side dish or salad. Cook fresh cranberries with your favorite breakfast oatmeal. Use fresh cranberries to make a tasty salsa with chopped red onion, jalapeno peppers, lime, and, of course, a handful of fresh cilantro.
If there’s a nutrient bacteria loathes, it’s this one. Arginine is naturally found in saliva and works with the good bacteria in your mouth to raise the pH level to healthier alkali levels. Arginine offers cavity-control by undoing all the dirty, sticky work bacteria does in your mouth. Arginine breaks down the film of plaque that accumulates on teeth.
Nuts are one of the richest plant sources of arginine, especially peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are also great plant-based sources of arginine.
The arginine content of lentils is right up there with nuts, at almost 2 grams of arginine per 100 grams of lentils. Throw in some chickpeas to a hearty lentil soup and you’ve got a double whammy of arginine.
If a spoonful of spirulina is in your go-to green shake or smoothie, you’re on the right track to breaking down plaque. This protein-rich superfood of the sea is also rich in arginine and other essential amino acids your plant-based diet can’t do without. A pigment in this blue-green algae known as phycocyanin explains the super anti-inflammatory power spirulina has in inflammatory diseases like periodontitis.
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Gerry Morton, CEO of EnergyFirst, holds an MS in Nutrition and is an experienced athlete who has competed in 30+ marathons and 4 Ironman triathlons. Gerry is an excellent source of information on nutrition, supplementation and exercise. Read his blogs at http://blog.energyfirst.com Connect on Facebook & Twitter.