Managing Wellness

Diet and Oral Health: Does Culture Play a Role?

  • Regional diets have an effect on the general oral health and wellness of a population
  • Some countries have better dental diets than others
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Posted by September 22, 2017

Diet and oral health are related, and believe it or not cultural beliefs and lifestyles affect your chance at having a smile that shines. Cultures that eat (or avoid) certain foods have lower risks of developing cavities and gum disease, and some countries as a whole have better dental diets than others. Your employees can learn a lot from the habits and diets found in countries with a higher level of mouth health.

Countries With the Best and Worst Teeth

Because diet plays a role in oral health, some countries have healthier teeth than others. According to the World Dental Federation, countries with the lowest rates of dental decay include the following developed countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland and China. Some countries in Africa also have low rates of dental decay. On the other end of the spectrum, countries with the lowest level of teeth health—in effect, the highest rates of tooth decay—include India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and some countries in South America and Asia.

Cultural Effects On Teeth

There are several reasons some countries and cultures have higher rates of cavities and other oral health problems. The World Health Organization says cultural factors that increase the risk of poor dental health include inadequate fluoride exposure, living in a poor or disadvantaged country, insufficient access to proper dental care, unhealthy diets, poor oral hygiene, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use.

However, not all developing countries have higher rates of oral health problems. Blue Hills Dental says several countries in Africa have low cavity rates despite poor dental care access and low socioeconomic status, simply because residents of these countries eat diets low in processed sugar.

Optimal Dental Diet

The best dental diets appear to be those lowest in processed sugar and rich in whole foods. For example, foods found in the Mediterranean diet give you stronger, healthier teeth, says the University Dental Group. Cleveland Clinic and the American Dental Association say foods that promote a healthy mouth include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, tea (2 cups daily), calcium-rich foods like yogurt and low-fat milk, fish (two to three servings per week), and Xylitol-containing sugar-free gum (chew it for five minutes after meals).

Diets low in processed sugar appear to be the most protective against oral health problems, like cavities and gum disease. This is demonstrated by the fact that, against all odds, developing countries in Africa, where diets lack processed sugar, have surprisingly low tooth decay rates, as cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugar.

Diet and Overall Wellness

There is indeed a link between diet and oral health, and diets that optimize dental health (rich in whole foods and low in processed sugar) are also best for overall health and wellness. This equates to lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic health conditions. Next time you talk with your employees on the topic of oral and overall health, you can share the tips and tricks of the Mediterranean diet and other unique patterns of cultures and countries with higher levels of oral health.

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