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 the crown, while that hidden by the same and which settles in the bone is called a root. Externally, enamel (hard tissue) is placed only on the crown; below it, the tooth is formed by a layer of dentin, which is in turn covered by a thin veil of cement. In the innermost lodge, the pulp can be distinguished, in which the feeding vessels and the sensory nerves circulate.
First, teeth are essential to start 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 decreases the chances of diverticulitis. The latter disturbance, based on the pre-existence of intestinal diverticulosis, can be triggered by the settling of coarse solid food residues (because NOT correctly chewed) inside “pockets” (diverticula) formed between the mucous membrane 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).
The teeth, or rather the locking 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 be a source of direct access for bacteria to the bloodstream.
Quite rare, but still possible, are septicemic infections originating from a very trivial (but neglected) dental caries (which we will discuss more in the following paragraph). We remind you that, although caries represents a rather common and (generally) NOT serious disorder, septicemic infection can instead be so serious as to lead the individual to death. Some studies have even linked poor oral hygiene with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack.
If the teeth represent a determining factor for the nutrition of the human being, also the diet can facilitate or compromise the integrity of these organs. The most frequent complication is certainly dental caries. This is due to a combination of several factors; it is defined as the erosion of the dental 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, i.e. a bag of pus; the abscess can give rise to the aforementioned septicemic infection.
Enamel erosion mainly results from 3 factors:
- Thickness (genetically determined)
- Saliva pH (must be alkaline to compensate for the acidity of the mouth)
- Residual acids.
If for the first two points it is not possible to intervene, for the third there is a series of expedients aimed at favoring a greater conservation 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. Among all, it seems that those most responsible for acid production are the lactobacilli. The substrate preferred by these microorganisms is certainly that of carbohydrates, in particular simple or not very complex. It is therefore necessary to bear in mind that:
- The simple sugars of the diet must constitute a minor portion compared to the 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 present above all in acidic products. This is the case of malic acid (especially in apples), ascorbic acid (vit. C), citric acid (citrus fruit), tartaric acid (grapes, wine, etc.), phosphoric acid (coke 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 provide for correct dilution and the right method of application. By making excessive use of it, the probability of serious erosion of the enamel would 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 in full erosive function and the application of a mechanical friction would increase their demineralization capacity; therefore, it is best to allow sufficient time for saliva to buffer the pH of the mouth.
It should be remembered that the chemical composition of tooth enamel is almost entirely based on calcium (similar to bones) and that fluoride plays a fundamental role in its fixation process. It can therefore be deduced that a diet deficient in these minerals, as well as compromising skeletal density, can negatively affect the maintenance of enamel.
Note. Fluoride seems to have a protective action on teeth even for topical use!
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 vitamin E. The gums cover the lower portion of the tooth, the one without enamel; these, if set back, promote the settling of food residues and expose the most delicate points of the tooth to bacteria and food acids. A little research on gum health has shown that consumers of large portions of yogurt, or 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 mucous membranes and reproductive organs).
Finally, remember that, for “physical” or consistency reasons, certain foods favor the onset of dental caries more than others. This is the case of semi-liquid and/or sticky products (e.g. syrups, toppings, candies, pasteurized honey, hazelnut cream, etc.) and those that are mushy or become mush immediately after chewing ( jams, crackers, biscuits, rusks, etc.); these, adhering and leaving more residue on the teeth, favor the proliferation of bacteria and the formation of acids. Conversely, harder foods (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, carrots, fennel, celery, etc.) favor the USE of the teeth and leave fewer residues that can be fermented by bacteria in the oral cavity.