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Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases

  • Paula Moynihan (a1) and Poul Erik Petersen (a2)

Oral health is related to diet in many ways, for example, nutritional influences on craniofacial development, oral cancer and oral infectious diseases. Dental diseases impact considerably on self-esteem and quality of life and are expensive to treat. The objective of this paper is to review the evidence for an association between nutrition, diet and dental diseases and to present dietary recommendations for their prevention. Nutrition affects the teeth during development and malnutrition may exacerbate periodontal and oral infectious diseases. However, the most significant effect of nutrition on teeth is the local action of diet in the mouth on the development of dental caries and enamel erosion. Dental erosion is increasing and is associated with dietary acids, a major source of which is soft drinks.

Despite improved trends in levels of dental caries in developed countries, dental caries remains prevalent and is increasing in some developing countries undergoing nutrition transition. There is convincing evidence, collectively from human intervention studies, epidemiological studies, animal studies and experimental studies, for an association between the amount and frequency of free sugars intake and dental caries. Although other fermentable carbohydrates may not be totally blameless, epidemiological studies show that consumption of starchy staple foods and fresh fruit are associated with low levels of dental caries. Fluoride reduces caries risk but has not eliminated dental caries and many countries do not have adequate exposure to fluoride.

It is important that countries with a low intake of free sugars do not increase intake, as the available evidence shows that when free sugars consumption is <15–20kg/yr (~6–10% energy intake), dental caries is low. For countries with high consumption levels it is recommended that national health authorities and decision-makers formulate country-specific and community-specific goals for reducing the amount of free sugars aiming towards the recommended maximum of no more than 10% of energy intake. In addition, the frequency of consumption of foods containing free sugars should be limited to a maximum of 4 times per day. It is the responsibility of national authorities to ensure implementation of feasible fluoride programmes for their country.

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