The influence of diet on dental health

Results from the latest National Health Survey show Australians are overconsuming discretionary (also known as ‘junk’) foods and are not consuming enough foods from the five food groups. It was revealed that 34% of the Australian population consume sugar-sweetened beverages including soft drinks, sports drinks, flavoured mineral water and juices.1 These drinks contain added sugars, such as sucrose, and there is a wealth of scientific evidence to support the impact of added sugars on the development of tooth decay.2,3Sugar-sweetened beverages vary in the quantity and nature of the sugars they contain, for example diet soft drinks are lower in sugar, or contain artificial sweeteners. While these types of drinks are lower in kilojoules than standard varieties, they are still acidic meaning consumption may be associated with increased risk of tooth erosion.4

Across the lifespan, excessive intake of discretionary foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods and sugary snacks may contribute to negative health outcomes, including poor oral health. The development of tooth decay is often considered a diet-mediated disease but the good news is a healthy, balanced diet can help to affect the development and progression of these diseases. The Australian Dietary Guidelines encourages individuals to limit sugary foods, especially between meals and encourages the consumption of foods from the five food groups between meals such as fruits and vegetables and cheese and yoghurt for good oral health.5 Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamin C which is good for periodontal health, while wholegrain foods stimulate salivary flow. Unrefined plant foods are also recommended as they contain phosphates and phytate which have cariostatic properties.6

In regards to sugary foods and drinks, it is important to remember that it’s not only the type of food that is consumed, but also the amount and frequency of consumption.7 The frequency of snacking and sipping on sugary and acidic drinks should be limited to decrease the risk of developing tooth decay. It’s for this reason that if sugary foods and drinks are consumed, they should be consumed as part of a meal, which reduces frequency of acid attacks.8

Looking after your teeth is a lifelong commitment. Here are some tooth-friendly tips for your patients about what to eat and drink:

1. When possible, drink tap water, rather than bottled water, as it usually contains fluoride at a level that helps to protect against tooth decay.9

2. Offer children milk or water – the only recommended drinks for children.

3. Limit intake of sugary drinks and foods. Sugary drinks include soft drinks, sports drinks, vitamin waters, cordials, fruit juice, fruit drinks and energy drinks.

4. Limit intake of acidic drinks, such as fruit juice, sports drinks, soft drinks, wine, alcopops and ‘diet’ or artificially sweetened soft drinks. Below is a figure showing the erosive nature of various drinks.



1 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Cat 4364.0.55.007. [updated 2015 Oct 15; cited 2016 Feb 09]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.007~2011-12~Main%20Features~Discretionary%20foods~700

2 Moynihan P, Kelly S. Effect on caries of restricting sugars intake: systematic review to inform WHO Guidelines. J Dent Res. 2013;93(1):8-18.

3 Sheiham A, James W. Diet and Dental Caries: The pivotal role of free sugars reemphasized. J Dent Res. 2015;94(10):1341-1347.

4 Salas MM, Nascimento GG, Vargas-Ferreira F, Tarquinio SB, Huysmans MC, Demarco FF. Diet influenced tooth erosion prevalence in children and adolescents: Results of a meta-analysis and meta-regression. J Dent. 2015;43(8):865-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2015.05.012. Epub 2015 Jun 7.

5 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

6 Moynihan P, Petersen P. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases. Public Health Nutr. 2004;7(1a).

7 Bernabe E, Vehkalahti M, Sheiham A, Lundqvist A, Suominen A. The shape of the dose-response relationship between sugars and caries in adults. J Dent Res. 2015;95(2):167-72.

8 Moynihan P, Petersen P. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases. Public Health Nutr. 2004;7(1a).

9 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.