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Diet and Dental Health

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Teeth are hard appendages positioned inside the oral cavity; they are considered real organs, as they are composed of living tissue, vasculature and nerve endings. Their main function is to grasp, chop and chew food; secondarily, they also play the role of phonetic modulators.

In humans there are 28 or 32 (depending on the presence or absence of third molars, called “wisdom teeth”) and their structure is organized as follows: the portion that emerges from the gum is called crown, while the one hidden by it is called that settles into the bone is called a root. Externally, only on the crown, the enamel (hard tissue) is positioned; beneath it, the tooth is formed by a layer of dentin, in turn covered by a thin layer of cement. In the innermost chamber the pulp can be distinguished, in which the feeding vessels and the sensitive nerves circulate.

Teeth and Health

The relationship between teeth and human health is rather close and complex.

First of all, teeth are essential for starting the digestive process; without them, food cannot be chewed and soaked in saliva (which contains the very first digestive enzymes). Correct chewing allows you to reduce the workload of the stomach (especially following the ingestion of meat) and reduce the possibility of diverticulitis. The latter disorder, based on the pre-existence of intestinal diverticulosis, can be triggered by the settlement of coarse solid food residues (because NOT properly chewed) inside “pockets” (diverticula) formed between the mucosa and the underlying vascular channels (a sort of intussusception or hernia). On site, these residues ferment and trigger a more or less serious inflammatory process (diverticulitis = inflammation of the diverticula).

Teeth, or rather the clenching of the jaw on the jaws, also play a rather important role in maintaining posture. It may seem strange but, if the upper and lower arches do not match, an alteration of the stabilizing muscle contractions can occur, with repercussions (of varying severity) on the position of the spine.

Last but not least, teeth can represent a source of direct access for bacteria to the bloodstream.

Rather rare, but still possible, are septicemic infections originating from a very banal (but neglected) dental cavity (which we will talk more about in the next paragraph). We remind you that, although tooth decay represents a rather common and (generally) NOT serious disorder, septicemic infection can instead be so serious that it can lead to the individual's death. Some studies have even linked poor oral hygiene with a greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack.

Acids and Bacteria

If teeth represent a determining factor in human nutrition, diet can also facilitate or compromise the integrity of these organs. The most frequent complication is certainly tooth decay. This is due to a combination of several factors; it is defined as the erosion of tooth enamel which, if left untreated, leads to bacterial contamination first of the dentin and then of the dental pulp. In the latter case it is common for the infection to lead to the formation of an abscess, or a pocket of pus; the abscess can give rise to the aforementioned septicemic infection.

Enamel erosion mainly results from 3 factors:

  1. Thickness (genetically determined)
  2. Saliva pH (must be alkaline to compensate for the acidity of the mouth)
  3. Residual acids.

If it is not possible to intervene for the first two points, for the third there is a series of measures aimed at promoting greater preservation of the teeth. These acids, capable of affecting dental malt, derive both from the natural composition of foods and from the physiological bacterial fermentation of the oral cavity; the predominant strains are: streptococci, lactobacilli, corynebacteria, actinomycetes, staphylococci and some anaerobes. Of all of them, it seems that those most responsible for acid production are lactobacilli. The preferred substrate for these microorganisms is certainly that of carbohydrates, in particular simple or slightly complex ones. It is therefore necessary to keep in mind that:

  • Simple sugars in the diet must constitute a minority portion compared to total carbohydrates (from 10 to 16%)
  • At the end of each meal it is advisable to perform a good dental cleaning, which increases the level of oral hygiene.

As far as food acids are concerned, however, they are mainly present in acidic products. This is the case of malic acid (especially in apples), ascorbic acid (vit. C), citric acid (citrus fruits), tartaric acid (grapes, wine etc.), phosphoric acid (coca cola), acetic acid (vinegar), lactic acid (yogurt) etc.

Having a corrosive action on the enamel, some of these acids present in the diet also have a whitening effect. Obviously, their use for whitening (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, etc.) must include correct dilution and the right method of application. If you use it excessively, the probability of serious erosion of the enamel will greatly increase.

Hence, some professionals also recommend NOT using the toothbrush before 20-60' after the end of the meal. This is due to the fact that the acids contained in foods are fully erosive and the application of a mechanical friction would increase their demineralization capacity; therefore, it is better to leave enough time for the saliva to buffer the pH of the mouth.

Diet and Nutrients

It should be remembered that the chemical composition of tooth enamel is almost entirely calcium-based (similarly to bone) and that fluorine plays a fundamental role in its fixation process. It can therefore be deduced that a diet lacking in these minerals, in addition to compromising skeletal density, can negatively impact the maintenance of enamel.

Use. Fluoride appears to have a protective action on the teeth even when used topically!

For the integrity of the gums, however, it is advisable to make sure that the diet is NOT deficient in: magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, selenium, vit. C and vit. E. The gums cover the lower portion of the tooth, the one not provided with enamel; these, if backwards, promote the settlement of food residues and expose the most delicate points of the tooth to bacteria and food acids. A small research on gum health has shown that consumers of good portions of yogurt, i.e. dairy products containing lactobacilli, seem less affected by gum disease; in practice, although lactic acid can be erosive for the enamel, the presence of PHYSIOLOGICAL bacteria tends to preserve the tissues from the harmful action of pathogenic microorganisms (similarly to what happens in the intestinal mucosa and reproductive organs).

Finally, let's remember that, for “physical” or consistency reasons, certain foods favor the onset of tooth decay more than others. This is the case of semi-liquid and/or sticky products (e.g. syrups, toppings, sweets, pasteurized honey, hazelnut cream, etc.) and those that are mushy or that become mush immediately after chewing ( jams, crackers, biscuits, rusks, etc.); these, by adhering and leaving more residues on the teeth, favor the proliferation of bacteria and the formation of acids. On the contrary, harder foods (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, carrots, fennel, celery, etc.) favor the USE of the teeth and leave less fermentable residues from oral bacteria.

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