According to the latest medical research, there is a correlation between a healthy mouth and a healthy body. Most Texans understand the popular link between healthy eating to prevent heart disease and keeping a normal body weight. Now individuals in Dallas, Houston, Austin and the rest of Texas need to think about food decisions to benefit the health of their mouths.

Sure, all that sugary food contributes to cavities, but there are other connections that link our diets and our mouths.

The status of our mouth can tell a lot about what we put into it. A poor diet can cause health issues for individuals in Texas including chronic bad breath, but it can also cause oral health problems like periodontal disease. This is the inflammation and destruction of the tissues and structures that hold our teeth in place. You can get everything from mouth sores, tooth pain and tooth loss, and that can lead to a downward spiral of other health concerns. Health issues with an individual’s mouth can happen at any age, not just with the elderly.

Once periodontal disease starts, it can worsen to other conditions related to diet, including uncontrolled diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and poor immune status. Other oral risk factors include poor oral hygiene, smoking and stress. On top of it all, inadequate calories and nutrients don’t allow for repair and maintenance of oral tissues, even with the best immune system.

Aside from the increased risk of periodontal disease, with uncontrolled diabetes, there is also the increased concern for cavities and bacterial or fungal growth in the mouth. That is because of the higher sugar level in the saliva that washes the teeth. Furthermore, diabetes can increase the risk of mouth infections because wound healing is compromised.

In addition, studies exist that have linked an increased risk of periodontal disease to obesity and insulin resistance. This is because they appear to be connected with increased inflammation in the body.

Other factors that can also contribute to mouth problems include “dry mouth.” This condition can increase the risk of cavities and other mouth problems. The increased frequency of acidic foods/beverages or acid in the mouth from vomiting — linked to eating disorders like bulimia — or esophageal reflux (GERD) can wear tooth enamel, causing tooth erosion.

Even some mouth and throat cancers may be diet related. Most importantly, a diet high in fruits and vegetables may be beneficial in reducing the risk of some oral-related cancers, and may be critical to the overall health of the gum tissues.

A recent survey indicates that about 42 percent of children and adolescents age 6 to 16 years have some level of tooth decay. In adults, it is about 90 percent.

With some age groups in Texas, the number of cavities has declined over the past few years. Yet tooth decay is still a major issue in infants and preschool children. One reason is prolonged or inappropriate bottle-feeding. Plus, sweetened beverages or a high intake of fruit juice and processed foods seem to be major contributors to tooth problems with babies and young children.

In adolescents and young adults, intake of sweetened and/or acidic beverages, like soda or sports drinks, is also a big problem. Processed or sweetened snack foods not only directly contribute to tooth problems, but also often replace a diet of healthy foods needed for oral health. Many age groups don’t consume enough recommended intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other less processed nutrient-rich foods that can benefit oral and whole body health.

Some recent studies show a relationship between vitamin D intake and the risk of periodontal disease. Surprisingly, many Texans show some level of vitamin D deficiency.

Dentists and physicians recommend that individuals include omega 3 fatty acids and active cultures, like those in yogurt, in their diet to help to reduce the risk of inflammation and boost the immune system.

Minding your mouth and its health will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet as well.

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