DEAR DR. BLONZ: Do you have any nutritional advice for helping someone avoid the need for dental work? I get all stressed out every time I go to the dentist. -- C.F., Phoenix, Arizona
DEAR C.F.: The nutrients needed for healthy teeth are similar to those needed for healthy bones -- and for health in general. These include calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin D and trace elements, including minimal amounts of fluoride.
A good diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and other protein sources can easily provide these things. If dairy isn’t on the menu, then mineral-rich leafy greens and other foods will need to be there. A multivitamin or multimineral can also help as a supplement, but there is no magic there; extra levels of a nutrient don’t make it “work” better, and supplements should never be thought of as a replacement for a healthful diet. Interestingly, our teeth begin to form during the second month of our mothers’ pregnancies -- another reason to ensure that maternal diets have a rich supply of essential nutrients.
Regarding your comment about preventing the need for dental work, I recall a scene from the 1992 movie “Prelude to a Kiss,” starring Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin. On the way to the altar to marry Baldwin’s character, Ryan’s character kisses an elderly gentleman, causing their spirits to switch bodies. Everything gets sorted out near the end, when their spirits return to their proper places. During the final scene, the elderly gentleman is asked, in light of his brief re-taste of youth, what he would do if he could live his life over again. He says he wouldn’t change a thing, except that he would floss a bit more.
This story is my “prelude” to the concept that care of the teeth and gums is critical. We need to consider the effects of food and other substances in contact with our teeth. Sticky substances, especially those containing sugars, can serve as fodder for the bacteria that hang out in the mouth, residing in the plaque. The bacteria metabolize the carbs and produce destructive acids that eat away our teeth’s hard enamel. Dental care, including brushing, flossing and rinsing, helps block this process, in part by removing the fuel used by these tooth-destroying bugs.
I can relate to your stress issue. While growing up, I had a problematic relationship with my dental health. Our family had limited resources, and we had to rely on an old-school dentist who was a family friend. Unfortunately, this guy did not believe in Novocain. As a result, I came to fear dental care and its associated discomfort, and never took care of my teeth. (You’d think I would be more diligent, to prevent such problems, but that’s not how I responded.)
It all changed when I was finally able to go to a dentist who used anesthetics. I still tend to sweat at the onset of any dental procedure, but that’s probably deep within my wiring. I had never flossed in my youth, but I now take good care of my teeth without giving it a second thought. I adopted the “only brush and floss those teeth you want to keep” maxim, and it has served me well.
A healthful diet, regular brushing and flossing, and periodic exams and cleanings are the best preventatives I can recommend. Here’s to keeping that smile healthy.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.