When was your last dental checkup?
Although most people don't give it much thought, having a healthy mouth and sturdy teeth or well-fitting dentures is critical to good nutrition. Obviously, if your mouth is uncomfortable, there's a good chance you'll skip hard-to-chew foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat and chicken. That increases the likelihood you'll choose cookies and ice cream instead.
You could do that once in while and get away with it. But a steady diet of soft, sugary foods will only make matters worse.
The Nutrition Screening Initiative (NSI) points out that, by the age of 50, 11% of Americans have lost their teeth, 47% need dental care for cavities in the roots and crowns of their teeth, and 57% need help with problems like receding or inflamed gums.
And dental problems increase alarmingly with age. Sixty-seven percent of men and 61 percent of women over age 65 have root cavities, while 88 percent have receding gums that allow plaque and bacteria to get to those root surfaces, increasing the likelihood that cavities will multiply.
Numerous studies have shown that sugary foods increase risk for cavities. And several years ago, a grocery-store marketing survey showed older adults ate more cookies than any other age group, even teen-agers! The good news is that dairy foods, like milk, yogurt and cheese, help protect teeth from cavities. That's a bonus, since the extra calcium and vitamin D are good for bone health, too.
Receding or inflamed gums will need good nutrition to heal. Getting adequate protein from easy-to-eat dairy foods can help. Other good, easy-to-chew protein sources include ground meat and legumes like beans, peas and lentils. They also provide some zinc, helpful to the immune system for fighting infection, and a wide array of B vitamins. Vitamin C is also important for healthy gums. You can get that from orange or other citrus juice.
Here's a one-day, easy-chew food plan that will meet your nutritional needs until you can get to the dentist:
Breakfast: 8 ounces orange juice, one packet cooked hot cereal, half-cup milk
Snack: half-cup milk, soft oatmeal cookie
Lunch: half-cup cooked rice stirred into one cup lentil, bean, or split pea soup, 8 ounces vegetable juice, one cup fruit-flavored yogurt with a sliced ripe banana
Snack: whipped cream cheese on seedless rye bread
Dinner: 3 ounces crumbled, cooked ground beef (well-drained), half-cup instant or refrigerated mashed potatoes with milk and margarine, half-cup well-cooked broccoli florets or chopped spinach, one slice bread with margarine
Snack: fruit shake made by blending one cup milk or yogurt with your favorite fresh fruit. Sweeten to taste, or add a little cocoa powder while blending
Many older adults also suffer from dry mouth caused by the medicines they take, certain health problems or radiation therapy.
Having a normal amount of saliva helps chewing and swallowing, improves the taste of food, starts digestion, prevents tooth decay and protects the mouth lining.
Many people resort to sucking on candy or mints to increase saliva, yet that puts teeth at risk for decay. NSI suggests chewing sugarless gum or mixing a few drops of glycerin with lemon extract or using artificial saliva, which you can buy over the counter.
Only 43 percent of Americans over age 65 visit their dentist annually. The rest wait until they're in serious pain before they go. You can do better than that. Protect your teeth and gums by eating a well-balanced diet and visiting your dentist regularly. A healthy mouth is the gateway to a healthy body.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.
Pub Date: 5/06/97