Nutritional counseling plays an essential role in dentistry and in the overall health of our patients. There is an unquestionable relationship between dietary factors, dental caries, and the correlation of multiple health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. It is our responsibility as excellent clinicians to educate all of our patients on how a healthy diet is not only is good for our body but can also help to preserve our teeth for a lifetime. Nutritional counseling is a crucial component to the practice of dentistry and should focus on reducing oral risks from diet and promoting good nutrition for health. It can be defined as a combined approach between patients and health care providers geared at encouraging patients to adopt healthy dietary behaviors paralleled with improved health outcomes.
We need to first teach our patients how and why dental caries form. In order to help them understand this, we initially need to discuss plaque, the first phase of dental decay involves plaque formation. Plaque is made up of bacteria naturally occurring in the mouth, food particles and saliva. It is a very sticky film that covers the teeth and can only be removed by mechanical means, brushing and flossing. Some strains of naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth are called strep mutans and lactobacilli, these thrive when we consume food and drinks that contain sugar. When sugars aren’t cleaned off of your teeth properly, these bacteria feed on them and produce an acid. The acid then eats away at tooth enamel leading to the formation of a cavity.
After the patient has a clear understanding of how dental caries are formed, it will be much easier for them to understand why a healthy diet in order to maintain not only their oral health, but the overall health of their body is important. As dental professionals, we always need to keep in mind our patient’s cultural influence, education, current health status, and any financial restrictions that may hinder the food selection or cause frustration for the patient. When diet changes are indicated for your patients, try and keep it simple for them. Make small changes, and let the patient choose one or two goals to aim for between dental appointments. This will keep them from being turned off by the suggestion of a healthier diet and from getting discouraged when they try.
When counseling, remind your patients that being thorough and consistent in their oral care along with healthy dietary practices can go a long way in guarding against cavities. Teach them that eating tooth-healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and other dairy products along with staying away from frequent snacks throughout the day can help. Point out that it’s not so much the quantity of sugar that they consume as it is the frequency that affects the teeth the most. Tell them that avoiding sweetened beverages is best because the sugar they contain will fuel the cavity-forming process, drinking water throughout the day is a much better option. All of these tips will help to prevent putting your teeth under assault from the acids created by the bacteria in your mouth.
Using education and nutritional advice will help your patients to be encouraged to make these small changes and help them to maintain a healthy mouth for a lifetime. Remember the age old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!