Dentists have long known the impact of nutrition and dietary choices on their patients’ dental health. The foods you choose and how often you eat them not only affect your general health, but the health of your teeth and gums as well. For instance, foods that contain sugars of any kind can contribute to tooth decay, which happens when plaque comes into contact with sugar in the mouth, causing acid to attack the teeth. As dentists, we encourage our patients to eat a nutritious, balanced diet including a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups, but nutritional deficits continue to be a problem for a lot of patients. It has been found, for example, that less than 10% of the adult population eats the amount of vegetables they should every day, and sugar-laden diets continue to be a significant contributor to tooth decay.
Some of today’s dental students are now getting some hands-on nutrition education, in an effort to learn how to prepare nutritious and delicious meals that benefit oral and systemic health alike. Students at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry are participating in a hands-on nutrition education course designed to teach students how to make healthy food taste good. “We teach disease specifics, whether it be obesity, diabetes, heart disease, et cetera. We do case studies. We talk about the patients, and then we design food around what those patients should be eating,” said nutritionist supervisor John Wesley McWhorter, MS.*
This new eight-week Culinary Dentistry pilot program, the Nourish Program, targets second-year dental students. They do class work, lectures, and discussions, and then go “hands-on” in the kitchen to prepare that week’s recipes. During this initial course, the students are learning about two patients, one diabetic and the other obese, and discuss their diet, medical history, culture, employment, and socioeconomic background, which play an often overlooked role in why these patients eat what they do.
Behavior modifications are one of the goals for the students. For example, they discuss the impact of sugar in the diet on teeth, obesity, and diabetes. Parts of that discussion are food labeling, hidden sugar, simple carbohydrates, and how such factors all must be minded in a recipe. The students then take that information directly into the kitchen, and learn to create tasty dishes with lower sugar content that are designed to be healthy alternatives to other foods.
Looking ahead, the school hopes to expand its material and add another module to cover more topics. Beyond the classroom, the University faculty hope the students will carry the impact of nutrition on oral health and systemic health into their careers, keeping these lessons in mind in diagnosing patients and developing treatment plans that may include dietary and behavioral components.
At Kimbrough Dental Care we believe that diet plays a big part in your overall health, but also in the health of your teeth and gums. If you have questions about how your current diet could be affecting your oral health, schedule an appointment soon.