Factors Affecting Nutrition and Oral Health

Sugar, particularly the frequent ingestion of sweets (cakes, cookies, candy), is related to both dental caries and periodontal disease. For example, populations with a frequent exposure to sugar, such as agricultural workers in sugar-cane fields (who may chew on sugar cane while they work), have a greater number of decayed, missing, and restored teeth. Sugar (sucrose), has a unique relationship to oral health. Sucrose can supply both the substrate (building blocks) and the energy required for the creation of dental plaque (the mesh-like scaffold of molecules that harbor bacteria on tooth surfaces). Sucrose also releases glucose during digestion, and oral bacteria can metabolize the glucose to produce organic acids. However, oral bacteria can also produce organic acids from foods other than sugar.

Oral health may be related to many nutritional factors other than sugar, including the number of times a day a person eats or drinks, the frequent ingestion of drinks with low acidity (such as fruit juices and both regular and diet soft drinks), whether a person is exposed to fluoride (through fluoridated water, fluoridated toothpaste, or fluoride supplements), and whether an eating disorder is present. Not only can the diet affect oral health, but also oral health can affect eating patterns. This is particularly true in individuals with very poor oral health, who may not be able to chew without pain or discomfort. Older, edentulous (having no teeth) patients who have had a stroke with the accompanying chewing and swallowing problems may be at significant nutritional risk, particularly if they are living alone and on a limited income. Finally, malnutrition (both undernutrition and overnu-trition) have specific effects on oral health.

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