If you have healthy gums, chances are you’re eating a healthy diet. The same goes for our children.

It’s not only important we all brush and floss our teeth, but also that we have a healthy diet.

Periodontal disease affects 90% of the world’s population, and it’s associated with many chronic conditions, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, malnutrition, cardiovascular disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Dental health and healthy eating patterns are inextricably linked, according to Ellen Karlin, registered dietitian from Owings Mills, Maryland, who recently spoke at the Spring Assembly of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nutrient-dense eating styles play an integral role in overall health of the hard and soft tissues in the oral cavity.

“A healthier diet means fewer cavities,” Karlin said.

Cavities in early childhood can lead to malnutrition, she adds.

Cavities are a common disease of the teeth that affect children younger than 6 years of age. The primary teeth begin to erupt at 4-6 months of age and are susceptible to cavities.

Cavities can result in difficulty in chewing, which impacts nutrient intake, chronic dental pain and can lead to premature tooth loss and inflammation for both adults and children.

A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health of 273 Nepali children ages 6 months to 12 years found that diet made a big difference in the health of children’s teeth.

The traditional Nepali diet is very healthy — rice, lentils, vegetables, grains and other whole foods.

But as sugar-sweetened beverages have become more popular and consumed on a daily basis, the study found stunted growth from nutritional deficiencies.

For all of us, too many cookies, cake and added sweets means we’re at increased risk for malnutrition and losing our teeth.

Karlin, co-author of the study “Dental and Oral Considerations in Pediatric Celiac Disease,” says children need plenty of hydration to increase salivary flow with foods that require chewing.

Rather than juice in a sippy cup throughout the day for children, she recommends feeding children whole fruit and offering only water and plain milk to drink.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend making every bite count by limiting intake of ultraprocessed foods, added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Parents can help limit foods with added sugars by reading labels and knowing sugars come in many different names: brown sugar, table sugar, corn syrup, beet sugar, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, molasses and date sugar.

“Ingredients like brown rice syrup may sound healthy but they still contribute to cavities,” Karlin said.

In a 2021 study published in the European Journal of Public Health, researchers found a positive association between sugar-sweetened beverages that were consumed daily or several times per week and increased risk for cavities and dental erosion.

The sugar-sweetened beverages were found to cause dental erosion.

Researchers recommended children consume sugar-sweetened beverages no more than once a week. They also found parents were not able to recognize added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners in beverages.

Foods that help prevent cavities include apples, fermented dairy, plain water and plain milk, which all help stimulate an alkaline environment — along with brushing teeth regularly, Karlin says.

The bottom line: A healthy diet — full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein — means healthier teeth at every age.


Q: Does putting butter or lemon juice in your coffee melt away fat?

A: Social media may have you thinking you need to add everything from fat to acid to your cup of coffee to kickstart your metabolism and “melt” away fat.

There is no research to back up that adding lemon or a pat of butter to your coffee can help you lose weight.

A 2021 review in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome found weight loss is dependent on complex factors, including the type of food eaten, the composition of meals and most important, maintaining a calorie deficit over time.

Physical activity and eating both help stimulate metabolism.

A more nutritious option is to add a splash of milk or cream to your cup of coffee and pair it with eggs, peanut butter and toast or a carton of yogurt.

Slow Cooker Oatmeal

Here’s a recipe to make mornings go a little smoother. Try slow-cooking oats overnight, up to eight hours. The recipe is from Allrecipes.com.


  • 1½ cups steel-cut oats
  • 5¼ cups water
  • 1½ cups chopped peeled apples
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Mix-ins: chopped nuts, dried or fresh fruit, granola, nut butter, maple syrup, honey, jam and yogurt


Put oats, water, apples, raisins, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a 1½-2-quart slow cooker. Stir to combine and dissolve sugar. Cook on Low 4-6 hours until oats are softened.

Serve with desired toppers and mix-ins.

Note: Oats will be thicker and softer with a longer cook time (8 hours). Be sure to add an extra ½ cup water to ensure the oats don’t dry out or scorch.


Serves 6

Per 1-cup serving (without toppers): 311 calories; 6 grams protein; 54 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams fat (4 grams saturated); 7 grams fiber; 20 grams sugars; 58 milligrams sodium

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.