It’s no surprise that malnutrition and poor oral health go hand in hand. You’ve probably seen images of people on television, usually in 3rd world countries, looking emaciated and toothless. Many cities in the United States have large homeless populations and those folks often have missing teeth too. What is surprising is that malnutrition is becoming epidemic in this country, which is leading to a multitude of diseases and other problems. In fact, dental problems are among the first obvious indicators that someone is not getting the nutrients they need.
Obesity and Malnutrition
You may be shocked that the most obese people are often the most malnourished. When you think of malnutrition you probably think of people who are starving, skinny, and disease-ridden.
It stands to reason that people who are getting enough food are also getting adequate nutrition. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, especially with people in the United States who are accustomed to eating the “Standard American Diet,” also known as the SAD. This diet is a way of life for a lot of people, and while it is calorie rich, it is nutritionally defunct.
The SAD consists mainly of processed foods which contain a lot of high-fructose corn syrup, bad fats such as refined vegetable oils, and foods which are stripped of their nutrients through the refining process. Additionally, many commercial farming practices are depleting the nutrients in our farmlands.
Vitamins and minerals are what keep our metabolism running like it should. If we are getting enough of these, our bodily processes should be able to regulate blood sugar and burn fat properly. When we are vitamin-deficient, all of these processes go awry, and malnutrition and poor oral health become a problem.
Malnutrition and Oral Health
In many cases, your dentist will be the first one to notice that you have problems that run deeper than what appears to be just a few cavities. This is another reason why it’s so important to go for regular check-ups; the health of your teeth and gums are often a reflection of your overall health.
If children are malnourished, the formation of their teeth and jaw can be adversely affected which causes developmental problems. If the permanent teeth don’t grow like they should, they will come in smaller than normal and this isn’t a problem that can be corrected. If the jaw doesn’t develop properly, the entire aesthetic of the face can be affected. Braces may be able to help with this, but their appearance can still be altered. So malnutrition and poor oral health is even more serious in children.
The older population is especially susceptible to malnutrition which will show up in their oral health as well and can cause teeth to loosen and fall out. Reasons for this aren’t necessarily related to eating the wrong types of food (though that can contribute), but also to not eating enough food.
If parents are in nursing or retirement homes or even living by themselves, they may not take care of themselves like they should. Meal preparation may be out of their hands or they may find themselves eating things that are convenient. If they haven’t been proactive about staying healthy, eating right, and getting enough exercise, then their physical and mental status will already be compromised.
A study conducted by Rutgers University in 2015 analyzed the health records of 107 senior citizens who lived in community type homes. 25% of them were found to have malnutrition and poor oral health, with 10-19 teeth affected. These folks also had higher rates of weight loss, suffered more from dementia and had more severe illness than the ones whose nutrition was adequate. The study also noted that if their teeth and gums were impaired, they were less likely to consume adequate amounts of food.
Another study completed by the United Health Care System noted that of all of the risk factors they studied, poor oral health had the largest impact on malnutrition. There have been many valid studies which discuss the relationship between poor oral health and nutritional deficiencies and vice-versa.
It’s not just children and the elderly that are affected by malnutrition and poor oral health. Here’s why:
- 30% of diets in America do not provide adequate amounts of Magnesium, Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and well as other important minerals and nutrients.
- 80% of people are Vitamin D deficient (Vitamin D plays a huge role in oral health)
- 90% of the population is are not getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids which are crucial for keeping inflammation and blood sugar regulated. This is extremely alarming and helps explain why we are experiencing a diabetes epidemic in the United States. To read more about how diabetes causes gum disease and tooth loss, along with how gum disease and tooth loss can make diabetes worse, click here.
These statistics are quite sobering and are a reflection of the results of eating a nutrient-poor diet. Additionally, The Journal of American College of Nutrition published an article in 2004 regarding the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables grown presently compared to the ones grown in the 1950s. Their review found that there was 16% less calcium, 15% less iron, and 20% less vitamin C found. They attribute the reduction in nutrients to poorer soil quality because commercial and industrial farmers do not practice crop rotation, etc., like they did in the middle part of the century.
Core Nutrients that Affect Oral Health
- Vitamin D – This is one of the most important nutrients for tooth health. It’s also one of the most wide-spread nutritional deficiencies in the United States. Vitamin D helps us to absorb calcium. Our entire mouths depend on calcium and Vitamin D to function properly. A lack of either contributes to gum disease, tooth decay, and for children, underdeveloped teeth. We can get Vitamin D from spending adequate amounts of time in the sun, and from milk, eggs, and fish. Vitamin D3 is also available in supplement form.
- Vitamin A – A lack of this vitamin will usually give the tooth surface a pitted look. It’s necessary for the body to produce adequate levels of saliva which is critical for keeping destructive bacteria and food particles washed away. This will show up in the form of tooth decay, more cavities, and gum disease. Vitamin A is found in orange fruits and vegetables, egg yolks, fish, and leafy greens.
- B Vitamins – The B vitamins help keep inflammation of the gums and tongue in check. It’s also a common deficiency in a lot of people. It’s found in red meats, leafy greens, fish, chicken, and legumes.
- Vitamin C – This is very important for keeping the connective tissues in the gums strong. A deficiency can be indicted if gums are bleeding and if teeth become loose. Vitamin C is naturally found in foods such as berries, citrus fruits, broccoli and kale, and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamin E – A deficiency in Vitamin E can be a contributor to gum disease and tooth decay because it helps to keep bacteria balanced in the mouth. It also acts as an antioxidant and can be found in nuts and seeds, avocados, fish, and greens.
- Calcium – The bones and teeth are made up of calcium. When there is a calcium deficiency in the body, it will pull calcium out of the bones to correct the imbalance. This can lead to osteopenia, osteoporosis, as well as deplete the jaw and teeth of calcium. The strength and structure of both can break down, making them weak. This makes teeth break easier and also leads to decay. Calcium is found in foods like legumes, dairy products, leafy greens, and almonds. Before taking a calcium supplement, it is a good idea to discuss with your dentist/doctor because it should always be paired with a Vitamin K2 supplement for proper absorption.
- Trace Minerals – Phosphorous, Potassium, Iodine, and Zinc all play a role in oral and tooth health as well.
Regular Dental Checkups
Malnutrition and poor oral health go hand in hand. Because tooth and gum problems will increase if nutritional needs are not being met, your dentist is often the first person to notice that there is an issue.
Because a good portion of the population is no longer getting the nutrients that they need from diet, malnutrition is becoming a trend in the United States, even though people are not “starving.” Unfortunately, more and more calories are being consumed however, they are nutritionally empty.
It’s more important than ever to have regular dental check-ups (every six months). Dr. Guillory is an experienced and knowledgeable dentist who can recognize warning signs occurring in the mouth that indicate malnutrition. He plays a crucial role in both your oral health, and overall health since the mouth is often a reflection of what’s going on throughout the entire body.