Can Diet and Nutritional Deficiency Lead to Teeth Sensitivity?Tooth sensitivity and toothache have become increasingly common recently, with their prevalence rising as we age. Tooth decay is the most significant factor, which has now become one of the most widespread diseases globally.
This can be attributed to changes in our dietary habits, particularly the consumption of sugary processed foods, emphasizing the importance of nutrition and diet in maintaining optimal dental health.
Besides tooth decay, other conditions can also be involved, such as gum disease, dental wear, and bruxism.
Find out in this article how diet and nutritional deficiencies can affect our oral health and lead to sensitivities.
In this article:
1. How does teeth sensitivity occur?
2. How can nutrition and diet affect your dental health?
3. The Major Role of Saliva
4. How can nutritional deficiencies lead to tooth sensitivity?
How does teeth sensitivity occur?Our teeth are composed of two hard layers: The outermost layer known as enamel, and the dentin, which lies underneath. Sensitivity occurs when the enamel breaks down, exposing the dentin to the external oral environment.
This is because, unlike enamel, dentin contains many tiny canals called dentinal tubules. They run through the thickness of the dentin and reach the tooth nerves.
When the exposed dentin receives stimulation from cold or hot food, it transmits it to the tooth's nerves. This causes sensitivity and pain. Factors that can break down the tooth's protective layers and expose the dentin include:
- Tooth Decay: Some bacteria in our mouth can turn the sugar in our food into acid. When there is too much acidity, the enamel erodes, exposing the underlying dentin. Over time, this can lead to small holes called cavities. You may then start experiencing sensitivities and toothache.
- Gum Disease: When harmful bacteria take over your mouth, they irritate your gums and cause inflammation.
In advanced stages, the gums gradually pull away from your teeth, exposing the roots. As the roots are not protected by tooth enamel, they are more sensitive. As a result, receding gums go hand in hand with sensitivity issues, particularly to cold, hot or sweet foods, and to pressure.
- Dental wear: Although enamel is the hardest tissue in our body when it undergoes continuous irritation, it breaks down, making the tooth more vulnerable. This can result from excessive consumption of acidic and sugary beverages, teeth grinding, or acid reflux.
How can nutrition and diet affect your dental health?There is a strong link between what you eat and the condition of your teeth. The more sugar you consume throughout the day, the more you feed harmful bacteria. These erode the protective layers of your teeth, increasing the risk of sensitivity.
While some nutrients are bad for your teeth, others do the opposite, helping to protect and strengthen them.
Nutrients bad for teeth
They include carbohydrates, a group of nutrients that can negatively affect dental health.
When broken down by bacteria, they turn to acid. This increased acidity dissolves the teeth' minerals, contributing to sensitivity and other dental issues.
The sugar called Sucrose is the most harmful carbohydrate for your teeth. It is present in various fast and processed foods like cakes, chocolates, drinks, candies, and commercial cereals. On the other hand, Lactose (milk sugar) is the least harmful.
The effect of sugars on your teeth depends on other factors as well, including:
- Sugar intake per day: Frequent snacking exposes your teeth to sugar and acid for longer periods.
- Food texture: Sticky foods can persist in your mouth longer and have a prolonged effect on your teeth.
- Lack of saliva: Saliva acts as a natural cleanser, washing away food particles and helping to maintain a healthy oral environment. When saliva is lacking, bacteria can easily thrive and damage your teeth.
- The last food you eat in a meal: The last food of a meal determines how acidic your mouth will be for the next few minutes. For example, a cup of sweet coffee at the end of a meal will affect your teeth more than a piece of cheese.
Certain nutrients possess the ability to protect and strengthen teeth. Here are some examples:
- Proteins and fats: These nutrients play a protective role for your teeth. They can help counteract the impact of sugar and acidity, providing a defense mechanism for dental health.
- Sugar alcohols: Artificial sweeteners known as sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol, do not significantly increase acidity in the mouth as other sugars do. Additionally, xylitol has antibacterial properties that can help inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. You can benefit from Xilitol's power through certain sugar-free chewing gums.
- Dairy products: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich in calcium and phosphorus, which are the building blocks of the teeth' hard layers.
- Foods that necessitate longer chewing: Foods that require extended chewing, such as crunchy fruits and vegetables or nuts, help stimulate saliva production.
The Major Role of SalivaAfter a sugary meal, the acidity in the mouth increases, leading to the loss of minerals from tooth enamel, a process called demineralization.
However, after approximately 30 minutes, acidity levels return to normal, and the teeth begin to regain the lost minerals. This natural cycle highlights the vital role of saliva.
Saliva plays a crucial part in this process by offsetting the acidity produced by bacteria and removing food particles from the tooth surfaces.
Moreover, saliva supplies essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus, which promote the remineralization and repair of enamel.
To ensure saliva can effectively remineralize your teeth and prevent sensitivity, it's essential to meet your mineral needs by consuming adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Consider also getting fluoride from oral hygiene products, as it is known to add extra strength.
How can nutritional deficiencies lead to tooth sensitivity?Although essential nutrients may not seem directly involved in tooth sensitivity, certain deficiencies can make teeth and gums more vulnerable and prone to damage. These deficiencies include:
- Calcium and Phosphorus: When you don't get enough calcium and phosphorus, the minerals needed for tooth remineralization, your teeth become more susceptible to wear, decay, and sensitivity issues.
- Vitamin C: Inadequate vitamin C levels can harm gum health. Gums may become more susceptible to shrinking, exposing roots, and increasing sensitivity.
- Vitamin D: Insufficient vitamin D levels may weaken the teeth and their supporting structures (gums and bone), making them more prone to deterioration.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is recognized as a valuable ally for gum health.
- B Vitamins: B vitamins, such as B2, B3, and B12, are essential for maintaining good oral health. These promote healthy mouth tissues, including the gums, and help prevent mouth soreness and discomfort.