Gluten-free diets have become remarkably popular in recent years. Once a little known eating pattern that very few individuals knew about, much less tried to adhere to, gluten-free diets have burst onto the scene of public consciousness, becoming almost mainstream as alternative diets go. With the rise in popularity of gluten-free diets, there has been a rise of gluten-free products from manufacturers seeking to meet a newly grown demand. These products and a gluten-free diet are generally touted as healthy choices meant to help you improve your overall well-being. So, when looking at your oral health, is a gluten-free diet all hype or can it really help improve your oral health?
What Is Gluten?
Simply, gluten is a type of protein. It is commonly found in several types of grain, most commonly wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten can be found in many manufactured foods and products, either those that have gluten grains as a main ingredient or those that contain ingredients made from gluten-containing grains.
Is A Gluten-Free Diet Actually Healthier?
Medical experts have expressed concern about the trendy version of gluten-free diets being adopted widely by the population as a whole. There are important nutrients in the grains that contain gluten, and whole-grain products are a valuable asset to a balanced diet. For most people, going gluten-free is not only unnecessary, but it’s also an expensive way to get less nutrition.
There is a major exception to this, however. For people who suffer from a specific medical condition called celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not only beneficial, it’s an absolute necessity. People with celiac disease cannot digest gluten, and when they do, it causes serious damage to the intestine. That damage leads to malnutrition because the damaged intestine cannot absorb nutrients properly from the food that a person eats. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system is triggered inappropriately in people who suffer from this disease.
Is Untreated Celiac Disease Bad for My Oral Health, in Addition to My Intestinal Health?
Celiac disease is absolutely detrimental to good oral health. When it develops before permanent teeth are done forming, enamel can be badly damaged, grooved, or inadequate. Research hasn’t been able to determine for sure if this enamel damage is caused just by malnutrition or if the damaged immune system is directly attacking the cells that grow enamel. Celiac sufferers also tend to have more canker sores and are more likely to suffer from dry mouth. Not surprisingly given the elevated risk factors, people with celiac tend to have more cavities as well. Eating gluten also puts those who have celiac at greater risk for head and neck cancers.
Treating celiac disease requires adopting a gluten-free diet. Even a small amount of gluten can cause unpleasant side effects and dangerous damage to the person who has celiac disease. It’s important to strictly follow a gluten-free diet to reduce canker sore development and preserve oral health and enamel health as much as it is possible to do so.
Are There Any Other Dental Health Risks to a Gluten-Free Diet?
Although a gluten-free diet may be lower in fiber, it is usually not lower in carbohydrates. Gluten-free replacement products, such as gluten-free bagels, gluten-free muffins, gluten-free cookies, etc. tend to have more sugar and more carbohydrates than their standard counterparts. Taking in more sugar increases dental caries risk. Snacking on gluten-free foods can be detrimental to a healthy smile, so it’s important to mitigate those risks. Brushing 20-40 minutes after eating a high carbohydrate meal, using a pH balancing oral rinse to help preserve a healthy oral environment if needed, and treating dry mouth are important to maintaining good oral health, regardless of gluten consumption habits.
If you need to follow a gluten-free diet to control celiac disease, your oral health will thank you for eliminating gluten. If you have no specific reason to remove gluten from your diet, it’s unlikely to help and it may make your oral care routine more complicated. Either way, it’s a great idea to talk to your medical care team before making any major changes to your diet.