When counselling my patients about tooth decay, tooth sensitivity, and gum disease, the topic of diet and healthy eating inevitably comes up. The new Canada Food Guide was released in early 2019, after much rigorous research by scientists and review by Health Canada, to guide Canadians when it comes to food and drink choices. The new Food Guide places much emphasis on reducing risk factors for leading diseases in Canada, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. As a dentist, I am very pleased to see that the Food Guide offers guidance for achieving better oral health as well, because many key changes made in updating the Food Guide overlap with advice for prevention of oral diseases.
Here are some notable changes:
- Increased emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins.
- Decreased emphasis on meats and higher-fat dairy products.
- Push to replace sugary drinks with water and to avoid exposure of teeth to sugar.
- Caution on dried fruit, as it is sticky and increases your risk of cavities.
- Categorizing 100% fruit juice as a “sugary drink” that is associated with tooth decay, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, instead of the previous recommendation of fruit juice as an equivalent to a serving of fruit.
- Emphasis on vegetables and fruit as health snacks—choose frozen fruit for added convenience.
I am also glad to see that some of the changes made can reduce specifically tooth erosion by acid wear, an importance cause of tooth sensitivity. Acidic drinks and foods, especially when consumed multiple times a day, may cause dental erosion over time. These include not only the obvious culprits such as vinegar and lemon juice, but also colas, wine, and fruit juices in general. An important factor is also frequency. Acidic foods consumed three or more times a day is linked to 13 to 14 times the chance of having tooth erosion, compared to once a day or less. In addition, the risk of acidic foods and drinks eroding your teeth is almost halved when they are consumed with meals, as opposed to between meals. In other words, not only does healthy eating matter to your dental health, so does the timing and frequency of consumption.
Finally, in terms of gum disease, the emphasis on fruits and vegetables ensures adequate intake of vitamin C, which has been linked with better healing following dental scaling in patients with gum disease. It is equally important to note that although the new Canada Food Guide reduced the emphasis on dairy products, dairy remains one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to bone and teeth health, and helps the body absorb calcium from what you eat. Some studies have even shown that inadequate vitamin D is linked with higher risk of gingivitis, gum disease, and loss of bone supporting the teeth.
The new Canada Food Guide to healthy eating is certainly a valuable update that is the culmination of the hard work of numerous scientists. It is an essential tool for maintaining both general health and oral health. So, next time you shop for groceries, be sure to keep in mind this information to help achieve a healthier body and stronger teeth!
Dr. Yolanda Li
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Canada’s Food Guide. 2019. Health Canada. [accessed 2019 October 28] https://foodguide.canada.ca/en/.
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O’Toole S. 2019. Helping patients with erosive tooth wear change dietary habits. CDA
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