By Anna M. Avola, D.M.D., M.S.
We all love to eat! What can be better than a meal shared with family and good friends. Enjoying what you’re eating involves both a sense of taste and smell, as well as chewing. But what you eat is even more important especially as you age. We all know that calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones. But remember your teeth are embedded in bone and that bone like any other bone in your body is affected by osteoporosis. This means that the bone density and strength of the bone has a direct effect on the satiability of your teeth! Actually, your first defense against tooth loss through periodontal disease is having a strong jawbone. A calcium poor diet contributes to the risk of developing periodontal disease.
The recommended amount (RDA) of calcium for women over 50 is 1200mg/day. Most of us are aware that insufficient calcium intake or insufficient absorption of calcium leads to osteoporosis. The culprit is the decrease in estrogen production as a result of menopause, which is responsible for both increased bone resorption and decreased calcium absorption. But in addition to osteoporosis, current studies have shown that women who get less than 500 milligrams of calcium per day from their food have a 54% greater risk of periodontal disease as compared with those who consume 800 milligrams or more of calcium every day. Simply improving your diet with the correct intake of calcium lowers your risk of periodontal disease.
What are some foods that provide the best source for calcium? Dairy products such as yogurt (300mg), cheeses (400-500mg) and milk (240 mg) are excellent choices, but for other sources are available as well. Sardines (240mg) are another good choice as well as collard and turnip greens (225mg), broccoli (250mg) soybeans (150 mg) and almonds (210mg). Calcium amounts are based on average size servings.
Mastication (chewing) of your food is very important in the digestion process. Food must be broken down into smaller particles in order for your body to absorb these nutrients from your food. Missing and decayed teeth or ill-fitting partial or full dentures can all contribute to inadequate chewing, leading to inadequate digestion. Advances in dentistry today allow implants to replace missing teeth and secure loose dentures permanently!
As we all get older, nutrition plays a more an important role in our health. In fact, research has shown that there is a link between oral health and systemic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A well balanced diet may not only improve your dental health, but also may reduce the risk of other disease. Ongoing research studies are beginning to show that antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and nuts may strengthen immunity and improve the body’s ability to fight the bacteria and inflammation connected with these diseases.
Regular dental visits which include a dental cleaning, dental exam and oral cancer exam are becoming even more important as our bodies change and as physicians prescribe various medications. In some cases medications can cause a dry month (xerostomia). Saliva protects both hard and soft oral tissues and starts the digestive process. Keeping the mouth moist by drinking plenty of water or using a sugarless candy or gum is needed to stimulate saliva. Saliva substitutes are also available.
Often elderly patients are on restrictive diets or are undergoing medical treatments that prevent eating nutritionally balanced meals. These conditions can impair a person’s ability to taste, bite, and chew or swallow food. Your dentist is also a great resource of discussing nutrition requirements for your diet.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these conditions, talk to a geriatric care dentist because there are solutions and remedies that are available. Be sure your healthcare team members are up to date on your medical history, lifestyle, eating habits and medications. Your dentist can identify, prevent and or control your oral health risks.
Anna M Avola, D.M.D, M.S.