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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Choices for tooth health

Tooth health may seem like an odd issue for a training & diet related blog.  However, consider this.  If you have teeth issues then your food choices, dietary goals & overall health could suffer[i].  Along with this there is the risk of systematic diseases that could be initiated or associated to bad tooth hygiene[ii], it is even potentially related to heart health[iii]?  With so much involved in the care of your teeth it seems like it would pay to spend a little time caring for your teeth & eating to improve tooth health (which will also improve overall health as well).

The basics

For excellent tooth care you should be doing a few basic things & (in my opinion) avoiding a few common things to maximise oral health. Brushing the teeth & flossing several times a day is the general rule.  To this I would add rinsing the mouth after meals or snacks if brushing isn't possible.
There may also be a case to include extra treatments like oil pulling[iv], as that has showed in some studies a potential benefit (although not proven).  Also the traditional practices such as the chewing of specific ‘teeth cleaning’ sticks may also have some benefits[v]. Avoiding sugars & sticky foods when a tooth brush is not available may be an option if you are suffering from tooth or gum issues, but do not avoid fruits high in vitamin C as the benefits to tooth & gum health from these foods outweigh the dangers.


 I do not actually approve of antibacterial products generally & I am against the use of antibacterial mouthwash specifically (I am not concerned with herbal mouthwashes if you wish to use those).  The body is not a single organism.  A human being is actually a colony of human cells that are very much outnumbered by bacteria cells (about 10 to 1)[vi].  Some of these bacteria allies reside on your skin & in your mouth.  They supply protection, by attacking invaders or using up potential food sources & out-competing invading bacteria.  When you use anti-bacteria products you destroy your first line of defence against invaders. Plain soap & some herbal mouthwashes do not completely wipe out your bacterial army[vii], but using anti-bacteria products does several things.  Firstly they may be causing the creation of super-bacteria[viii].  Secondly, they could leave you undefended should another bacteria invade the body while your bacteria has not recovered[ix]. Thirdly, you could increase blood pressure as the nitrates found in food are changed to nitrites by bacteria in the mouth[x]. As a side note destroying these bacteria could also affect your endurance as an athlete[xi]. For those reasons I advise against anti-bacterial products.  Obviously these are personal choices but upon weighing up the pros & cons I feel that any potential benefit is outweighed by the potential risks involved.


Probiotics are sold as being good for gut health, but there could be a case for including them as part of your oral hygiene routine.  The evidence here is not solid yet, but if you intend to take a probiotic anyway, then why not take them out of the capsule & sprinkle on food or add to a shake (recently I have included them in my morning chia pudding).  That way the friendly bacteria get’s into the mouth & can also colonise the throat.  There is mounting evidence that probiotics can improve health & even help lessen the risk of cancer[xii].  On top of those benefits there are also studies & articles suggesting that oral health could be improved by introducing probiotics into the mouth rather than swallowing a pill[xiii],[xiv]


Fluoride is a much trickier issue to sift through.  There are countless articles online proposing the dangers of fluoride.  Fluoride can be a poison & you can ingest too much[xv]. If you have known tooth issues involving damaged or weakened enamel, then certainly it would seem to make sense to use fluoride in a toothpaste for a while.  I would suggest you are especially vigilant to not swallow any fluoride product & to rinse well after use.  Most people will find that regular dental care means that taking extra fluoride is unnecessary.  Again this is a personal choice, weigh up the risk:reward ratio & see if it makes more sense for you to use or not, & remember no decision is binding & you can use for a while, stop, then use again at any time you feel it is necessary.

Bad breathe

If you suffer from bad breathe then life can seem pretty bad.  There are several causes of bad breathe. Invasive bacteria in your mouth can cause bad breathe.  Certain foods can also cause bad breathe as they are ingested & release chemicals into the lungs that you exhale. Dry mouth can cause bad breathe, as can medications & illness[xvi]. If you have this problem try to discover the root cause of this condition & deal with it.  Things like improved oral hygiene, writing a food diary, changing medication or seeing a doctor are all ways to discover the causes of your bad breathe.

Foods to eat foods to avoid to improve oral health

One of the most important factors outside of brushing & flossing are the foods you choose to eat. Some foods will improve the health of your teeth & whereas others will negatively affect oral health.  Luckily all the foods that positively affect oral health also affect overall health positively as well.  Most of the things to do or avoid doing are common sense & after a little thought you see the need for including & excluding the foods on this list

  1. Avoid sugary foods.
  2. Avoid sticky foods (or brush afterwards).
  3. After eating sweet fruits or meals rinse the mouth with water.
  4. Drink green tea as a few studies have shown that it reduces oral diseases & bacterial growth.
  5. High vitamin C foods (like kiwi & strawberries) actually aid gum health (rinse your mouth with water after eating these).
  6. Nuts & Seeds are full of minerals that help keep teeth strong.
  7. Seaweed is another mineral rich food source.
  8. Celery, apples, fibrous greens are all good for 'scrubbing' bacteria loose from teeth. They actually do a 'mini brushing' effect. You still need to swill the mouth with water &/or brush afterwards, but these aid the process.
  9. Onion family have anti-bacterial value & can lower the amount of unfriendly bacteria in the mouth.
  10. Shiitake mushrooms may also lower bacteria levels in the mouth.
  11. Open probiotic pills & put them in your mouth directly. This replaces unfriendly bacteria with the friendly type that naturally occurs in the mouth. It could also lower the chances of mouth & throat cancers.

Final points

Remember oral health should be treated like any other part of your health routine.  If in doubt go & seek out a dentist to get checked out.  The above ideas cannot guarantee you perfect oral health, but it should go some way to improving your oral health.  Also consider the risk:reward ratio when deciding what to include into your oral care.  If your teeth & gums are fine then there is no need to include time consuming extras that would have limited (if any) benefit. Use that time for other activities that have a higher return like exercise, mobility, stress relief or similar.  However, if your teeth & gums are an issue, then spending a little extra time may well help you overcome these issues & help improve not just your oral health, but your overall health as well. Keep smiling!

[ii] Xiaojing Li et al. Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2000 Oct; 13(4): 547–558.
[iii] Watt, R et al. Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from Scottish Health Survey.  BMJ 2010;340:c2451
[iv] Peedikayil FC et al. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis - A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7.
[v] al-Otaibi M. The miswak (chewing stick) and oral health. Studies on oral hygiene practices of urban Saudi Arabians. Swed Dent J Suppl. 2004;(167):2-75.
[vi] Wenner M. Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones. Scientific American November 30, 2007.
[vii] Burton M et al. The Effect of Handwashing with Water or Soap on Bacterial Contamination of Hands.  Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jan; 8(1): 97–104.
[viii] Ballantyne C, Strange but True: Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good. Scientific American June 7, 2007.
[ix] Chiller K et al. Skin Microflora and Bacterial Infections of the Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings (2001) 6, 170–174.
[x] Bondonno CP et al. Antibacterial mouthwash blunts oral nitrate reduction and increases blood pressure in treated hypertensive men and women. Am J Hypertens. 2015 May;28(5):572-5. doi: 10.1093/ajh/hpu192. Epub 2014 Oct 30.
[xi] Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Med. 2014 May;44 Suppl 1:S35-45.
[xii] Reid G et al. Potential Uses of Probiotics in Clinical Practice. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Oct; 16(4): 658–672.
[xiii] Haukioja A. Probiotics and oral health. Eur J Dent. 2010 Jul; 4(3): 348–355.
[xiv] Bonifait L et al. Probiotics for Oral Health: Myth or Reality? Canadian Dental Association.
[xv] Li Y. Fluoride: safety issues. Oral Health Research Institute, Indiana University School of Dentistry. Journal (Indiana Dental Association) [1993, 72(3):22-26].

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