What Type Of Carbs Are Best For Your Teeth?

According to a new review commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whole grain carbohydrates are the best option to choose when it comes to maintaining good oral health.

The study titled "Effects of Starch on Oral Health: Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guideline" was published in the Journal of Dental Research on Aug. 3.

More than 30 academic papers related to starch and oral health were analyzed by the research team. Starch is defined as a naturally occurring dietary carbohydrate.

Our body takes a long time to break down slowly digestible starch (SDS) which is beneficial as it delivers a slow and sustained release of blood glucose. On the other hand, rapidly digestible starch (RDS), produced via food processing, causes the rapid release of glucose in the blood as it can be broken down faster.

Some examples of RDS include white bread, crackers, biscuits, cakes, pretzels while whole grains and legumes can be classified as SDS. In the studies, foods were divided into both categories and examined for any potential relationship with tooth decay, oral cancer, and periodontal disease (gum disease).

The findings revealed no clear association between the amount of starch consumed and tooth decay, but the type of starch consumed did seem to matter.

More processed forms of starch were linked to a higher risk of cavities, most likely because amylase (an enzyme found in saliva) can break the starches down into sugar right in the mouth. 

"The evidence suggests that a diet rich in whole grain carbohydrates is less likely to damage your oral health than one containing processed starches," said lead researcher Paula Moynihan, professor of nutrition and oral health at Newcastle University, England.

Currently, WHO recommends both adults and children reduce their free sugar intake to less than 10 percent of total energy intake. For additional health benefits, a further reduction to less than 5 percent is considered to be ideal.

These sugars include those added by the manufacturer or consumer themselves, as well as the sugars that are naturally present in honey, fruit juice, syrups, etc.

"Despite an ill-advised fashion for eliminating carbohydrates from the diet, a carbohydrate-rich diet is shown to be fine for oral health so long as it is low in sugars and is based on whole grain varieties of carbs such as pasta, couscous, and wholemeal bread," Moynihan said.

When shopping for food, she added, the key is to look for wholemeal and whole grain on the nutrition labels. Additional findings of the review, though limited by weak data and insufficient research, seemed to indicate whole grains could also help protect against gum disease.  

WHO has also commissioned research to understand how carbohydrate quality can influence other outcomes apart from oral health, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.