Healthy teeth and good nutrition go together like strawberry and mochi. But the bacteria in our mouths love to eat sugar and carbs (just like us), and they excrete acid afterward. This acid destroys our enamel, leaving our teeth vulnerable to cavities. So how do we prevent cavities and still enjoy our mochi and haupia pie?
By understanding the nutritional content of what we’re eating and practicing good oral health habits, we can enjoy our favorite foods (in moderation) and maintain our oral and overall health. Tooth loss is commonly associated with getting old. But did you know that age doesn’t cause tooth loss? That’s right, some people live their entire lives with their natural teeth. The real cause of tooth loss is tooth decay, which happens when bacteria and food particles are left on the tooth enamel.
The worst culprits for causing tooth decay are foods with lots of sugar and carbohydrates. To minimize our risk, we have to maintain good oral health habits and eat right. Nutrition and dental health directly impact each other, so take control of your oral health by kicking up your nutrition today.
Cavity-Causing Hawaiian Foods
- Haupia Pie – up to 47 grams of sugar and 70 grams of carbs per serving
Haupia alone is mostly made of coconut milk, making it a healthy option for dessert. But haupia pie incorporates more sugar and cornstarch, which become acidic and can lead to tooth decay if left on the teeth for too long.
- Poi mochi – up to 8 grams of sugar and 24 grams of carbs per serving
Mochi is delicious and poi mochi takes it to a whole new level with a deep fried outside drizzled with chocolate syrup. Mochi is made from sugar and cornstarch. Starchy foods get stuck between the teeth easily, sneaking into crevasses where they break down into enamel-eroding acids.
- Lilikoʻi bars – up to 38 grams of sugar and 54 grams of carbs per serving
This sweet dessert is also heavy on the sugar and is paired with a lemon or passionfruit filling. The fruit puree mixed with simple syrup creates a perfectly sticky consistency to wreak havoc on the teeth.
You don’t have to rid your cabinets of everything sugary and starchy if you keep moderation in mind. The American Heart Association recommends that adult men “consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day.” For adult women, they recommend “6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Make nutritional choices that fit your lifestyle. Would you rather have a slice of haupia pie or one 12-ounce can of soda with 32 grams of added sugar today?
The Traditional Hawaiian Waianae Diet
Did you know that prior to the 18th century, tooth decay didn’t exist in Hawaii? That’s because the traditional Hawaiian diet, or Waianae Diet, was low in sugar, high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, and low in fat. It mainly consists of taro, poi, sweet potatoes, yams, breadfruit, greens, seaweed, fruit, and fish. Cooking methods are very important to maintain nutritional content. The Waianae diet relies on steaming, though many of the foods are enjoyed raw. Steaming versus boiling allows vegetables to keep their nutrients and crispness. Steaming also preserves color, flavor, and lowers the cholesterol content.
Older Adults in Hawaii – Protecting Our Kupuna
Hawaii is known for its poke and black sand beaches, but it also known as the state with the best senior oral health! Hawaii’s kupuna experience the least amount of tooth loss when compared to the rest of the U.S.
There’s always room to improve, though. 47 percent of adults in Hawaii, ages 45 to 64, lose at least one tooth due to poor oral health. And tooth loss is 100 percent preventable, meaning no one has to lose teeth due to decay.
Additionally, natural teeth allow us to have a better quality of life. We progressively alter our food choices as we begin to lose teeth. Our ability to successfully chew breaks down our food and helps release flavor. Individuals with missing teeth report eating less of foods that are harder to chew, like fresh fruits, veggies, and proteins. Preserving our natural teeth directly impacts our health and our diet as we age. Are you making mindful decisions about your diet? Check out our suggestions for a balanced meal for any age.
Have you and your ʻohana been maintaining your preventive dental care? View tips and tricks for better at-home brushing and flossing. Take the time to discuss with your dentist how you can improve your smile health. Still looking for a dentist? Find one in your area.