photo of toothbrush

DECATUR, Ill. – Our mouths provide many sensations while eating. We can notice the taste of foods on our tongues, a food’s temperature, its texture or mouthfeel, and more. These can be enjoyable experiences and provide pleasure while we eat. Alternately, many have experienced discomfort while eating, from minor irritations such as biting our tongue to more serious concerns like oral inflammatory diseases, such as gingivitis.

Foods provide nutrients that are important for maintaining good oral health. Gums and other tissues in the mouth need nutrients such as vitamins C and K; fruits and vegetables are good sources of these nutrients. Teeth need nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus; dairy, plant and animal proteins, and nuts and seeds are sources of these nutrients. Fluorinated water, found in municipal water sources, provides the nutrient, fluoride, which helps reduce the risk of cavities.

Bacteria in the mouth can challenge good oral health. These bacteria, which feast on carbohydrates and sugars left behind in the mouth, may lead to tooth decay and diseases of the gums. Along with daily brushing and flossing and having regular dental cleanings, healthier food choices can provide nutrients needed to maintain teeth, gums, and other surfaces, and help reduce the impact of oral bacteria.

For infants and babies, remove bottles of breast milk, formula, or juice from cribs or play areas to monitor the time the child has access. Then, wipe the child’s gums to help remove bacteria. This reduces the risk of cavities.

For older kids to adults, consider these recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Eat nutrient-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, dairy foods, and plant- and animal-protein foods.
  • Eat less of foods that support oral bacteria, such as sweet drinks, desserts, and candies.
  • Limit grazing or snacking, which can increase the risk of cavities.
  • Rinse the mouth with water after eating to help flush out bacteria and food particles.
  • Consume raw vegetables, which provide friction on the gums and teeth to loosen bacteria and stimulates saliva to rinse away bacteria.

For those who have mouth sores, dentures, and other oral health concerns, talk with a dentist and registered dietitian for additional recommendations to support eating more comfortably and more nutritiously.

For more about oral health, visit the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois Chicago.

SOURCE: Caitlin Mellendorf, University of Illinois Extension, Nutrition and Wellness Educator
WRITER: Maria Lightner, University of Illinois Extension, Marketing and Communications Coordinator