How Diet and Brushing Determine Your Oral Health

There are approximately 700 types of bacteria in the mouth. Excessive sugar, fats, processed foods, and smoking damage teeth and gums. More than 2.3 billion people in the world have cavities; 530 million children suffer from cavities in their baby teeth.

How Diet and Brushing Determine Your Oral Health
Education and prevention from childhood onwards are required for oral health. Photo by Diana Polekhina / Unsplash

It is estimated that nationwide 90 percent of Mexicans are affected by caries and 70 percent by gum disease, the two main ailments of the oral cavity, says the head of the Dental Clinic of the Faculty of Higher Studies (FES) Iztacala of the UNAM, Luisa Lopez Osuna. It could be that the cavities are small or that there is inflammation of the gums. Worse still, there may be a major ailment, including the loss of teeth.

According to the World Health Organization, these disorders are joined by oral cancers, manifestations of HIV, trauma, cleft lip and palate, and noma (a serious gangrenous disease that starts in the mouth and affects mostly children). Most are largely preventable and can be treated in their early stages.

According to estimates published in the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, oral conditions affect approximately three and a half billion people worldwide. Caries in permanent teeth are the most common disorder: two and a half billion suffer from it and more than 530 million children suffer from it in baby teeth.

On the occasion of World Oral Health Day, which is celebrated on March 20, Lopez Osuna states that the oral cavity is the first part of digestion; that is where food enters the mouth and some enzymes initiate this process. Through the mouth and lesions, certain diseases, such as AIDS or measles, can be detected early.

In detailing the two main ailments, microbes metabolize carbohydrates and this metabolism produces acids that dissolve the enamel of the teeth, which is a mineralized tissue, causing cavities to form in the teeth; these are caries. If these "holes" enlarge, that is, if the lesion becomes deeper, it can affect the nervous tissue called dental pulp; then the discomfort that evolves into pain appears.

The periodontal disease consists of damage to the tissues surrounding the tooth and has two stages: gingivitis or inflammation of the gums, reversible with good hygiene; and periodontitis, an inflammatory process due to the activity of bacteria (approximately 700 types present in the mouth), which causes the loss of support for the teeth and their consequent fall.

This has an impact on esthetics, especially if it is the anterior molars (located at the front of the mouth), and also on chewing because it is not possible to cut food properly. If it is the molars, the ability to grind and start the digestive process correctly decreases, which can cause gastrointestinal problems.

The cause of these ailments is, mainly, the lack of hygiene; when we stop brushing them, the number of pathogenic bacteria increases, capable of producing substances that damage dental tissues. On the other hand, by performing this practice we keep them in balance since they are necessary for the oral cavity to metabolize food.

Smoking and a diet high in carbohydrates, processed foods, with too much added sugar and fats, increase the number of these microorganisms that cause caries or periodontal disease. That is why it is important to brush (even without toothpaste or mouthwash) at least twice a day, says the expert. "It's like sweeping and dusting, even without soap".

Behavioral changes and some of the dental procedures

Although no studies have been carried out, the pandemic probably led to an increase in oral diseases because patients stopped seeking dental care and in several cases, dental care was interrupted. Likewise, behaviors were modified. Going out to school or to the office forces you to brush your teeth, even carrying a toothbrush to use outside the home; but being in the same place, the routine is to get up, eat, drink coffee constantly and, as we do not interact directly with people, we put aside oral hygiene.

Implants are the latest frontier of esthetic and restorative treatments; they are screws that go into the bone and replace the missing tooth. The technology is very advanced and through particles placed on the surface of the implant, there is an integration of the implant into the bone.

When a treatment like this or orthodontics (braces) occurs to align the teeth, the patient must have good cleaning habits. Hygiene is the basis of oral health; if this care is not taken, the treatment, whatever it is, will not work.

The population needs to be aware of the importance of this aspect for their general wellbeing; if this does not happen, it is more of an imposition than a reasoned aspect. Campaigns are needed to remember correct brushing, flossing, and rinsing; in addition to visiting the dentist once or twice a year. It is not necessary to wait for discomfort.

If the patient finds something abnormal in his or her mouth, such as changes in color, sores that do not heal, etc., he or she should see a dentist immediately; early detection of diseases, such as cancer, allows them to be cured.