Bite This: Food Insecurity and Oral Health

We always notice a winning smile. It has been long observed that people’s teeth reflect and reinforce wealth or poverty, in fact, more than half of Americans believe someone with bad teeth would be less likely to land a job than a person with pearly whites. As a society, we blame bad teeth on the habits and choices of those with them, and for the poor, there is an undue shaming. Insufficient access to preventative dental care can cause serious health concerns for low-income families.

When poor communities and families struggle with food insecurity it impacts their teeth and dental health in the same ways it affects overall health. For children, it means missed school days, limited concentration due to dental pain and headaches, infections, speech impairment, and eating difficulties. It further increases the risk of poor oral health in adulthood that can lead to fewer earning possibilities. Lack of access to preventative dental care compounds these risks.

The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found in 2009 that dental issues caused about 936,000 emergency-room visits and almost 13,000-inpatient hospital stays. Many of these patients had low-incomes and dental coverage that restricted care to emergencies or wasn’t accepted by accessible dentists. Untreated tooth decay and cavities develop from a simple filling to emergency care.

What’s wrong with our teeth and gums can many times signal and cause health problems. Often cardiovascular disease, celiac disease, diabetes, sinus infection, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux, alcoholism, lower birth weights, and more are a result of dental health issues, making adequate dental care much more than a luxury.

A list of suggestions for healthy teeth beyond daily brushing and flossing looks remarkably like a list for general disease prevention.  It includes many foods and nutrients missing from the diets of those who find themselves food insecure.

Keep the following suggestions in mind to upkeep the health of your teeth:

  • Eat whole foods: look for nutrient-dense foods with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin K & K2, and vitamin D.
  • Eat raw, crunchy fruits and vegetables: these clean your teeth to a degree (think apples, carrots, bell peppers, etc.).
  • Limit sugars: from both foods and beverages. Energy drinks, in particularly are damaging as they have a shockingly high sugar content.
  • Increase arginine intake: spinach, lentils, nuts, eggs, whole grains, meat, seafood, and soy all benefit gum and tooth health.

And two things we can all benefit from that is forever connected to health-related concerns that bypasses income and wealth:

  • Regular exercise: exercise can help protect against periodontal disease, not to mention a host of other health benefits.
  • Avoid smoking: for many reasons but in addition, smoking can wreak havoc on gum and tooth health.

The importance of access to proper nutrition truly affects the whole body, and all communities deserve the opportunity to feed their families with the fresh, wholesome food provided by our donors. We continue to work on leveling the playing field between neighborhoods by bringing healthy, fresh food to over 100 agencies in 4 counties, making accessible better health, learning and job opportunities.   Hence, a winning smile!


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