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Far too many people eat way too much fast food. How does a junk-food diet impact your oral health?

Tooth Erosion

Tooth erosion refers to destruction of the protective layers of the teeth due to chemical processes without the involvement of micro-organisms. Our enamel, which is considered to be the hardest substance in the body, is extremely susceptible to damage when exposed to an acidic environment.

Most fast food and soft drinks have added preservatives in them that are also extremely acidic in nature. Phosphoric acid, Citric acid and Malic acid are among the most common additives in fast food. and studies have found them to incredibly erosive to the teeth.

The fact that fatty food is available on every street corner in developed nations has created eating habits different from what they were or still are like in the less developed parts of the world. In-between snacks or late night binges are extremely fun, no doubt, but they are equally harmful to your dental health. The change in the acidic level of the mouth means that micro-organisms have more time to release noxious substances in an environment suited to them.

One of the most famous studies conducted to research the effect of soft drinks on enamel involved the immersing of a healthy piece of enamel and then studying the damage at different times, up to 48 hours. The study found all major commercial soft drink brands to be extremely erosive over this period of time and attributed it to their low pH levels.   

This is the study that is quoted when comparing soft drinks to battery acids. While there is no doubt that soft drinks are acidic and alter the acidity of our oral cavity, it is highly unlikely that we will see the kind of damage reported in the study. This is because the study did not take into account the effect of saliva, which is a natural buffer that helps neutralize acidic foods. Also not even the most avid soda addict swishes soft drinks around their mouth for 48 hours!

It is still advisable to drink soft drinks with a straw, so that their contact with the teeth is minimized.

Nutrition

Nobody has ever claimed that fast food is the healthiest or most nutritious option around. You may not quite be aware that people who are used to eating fast food as their staple diet are extremely likely to suffer from deficiencies of essential nutrients and minerals. Calcium and Phosphorous are very important for the healthy development of the teeth during childhood, and also plays a crucial role in making sure the teeth remain strong throughout your life.

The tricky part about these findings are that nutritional studies aren't usually double blinded, since it would be unethical for a person to be deprived of essential nutrients just to study what effect that has on their teeth. However, most dentists and researchers in the field agree that proper nutrition plays a huge role in maintaining the integrity of the teeth and preventing tooth and gum disease.

Conclusion  

Almost all the studies conducted on the effects of fast food on the teeth have shown that there is some amount of increased damage to the teeth that takes place due to its consumption. It is, however, important to remember that fast food can be enjoyed in moderation, much like any other food article, without any trouble whatsoever.

A number of variables like oral hygiene, other dietary habits, and access to treatment play an important role in determining how harmful fast food can be to an individual.

  • 1. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=N&iid=315&aid=1274
  • 2. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diet-and-dental-health
  • 3. http://www.colgate.com/en/us/oc/oral-health/basics/nutrition-and-oral-health/article/ada-04-food-choices-affect-your-oral-health