Eating healthy, nutritious foods is the key to a healthy
digestive system. It’s also very important to consider
how we chew and break down food for proper
digestion. The first step of digestion starts in your
mouth. Teeth help break down foods and saliva has enzymes
by which the digestive process starts. As you swallow food,
muscles move it through the digestive tract. Food then is broken
down and absorbed of nutrients needed by your body for
health and development.
Function of Teeth in Digestion
Adults should have 32 teeth, four of which are the wisdom
teeth. These four wisdom teeth might not develop at all or
may be pulled at anytime due to lack of space or other reasons.
There are different sets of teeth and each set has a particular
function. Teeth may be considered organs of chewing
(mastication) and serve a very important function of the
digestive process. Chewing food properly gives the signal to
saliva to aid in the break down of certain carbohydrates.
The parts of the teeth that are visible are called crowns. The structure
of the outer layer of the crown of teeth consists of a hard outer surface
called enamel. This is the hardest substance in the human body.
- Molars have a large surface with pits and grooves that make them suitable for grinding food between opposing upper and lower molars. There are two molars in each of the four arches of the mouth. Molars are the last teeth in the mouth of each quadrant. There are actually three molars on each side, with the “3rd molar” being the wisdom tooth.
- Incisors, or the front teeth consist of sharp edges that are made for cutting food. There are six upper and six lower incisors. At the corner of each set of front teeth are the canines. These have long roots and are designed to tear food. The incisor teeth cut food and push it to the back teeth (molars and premolars) with the help of the tongue. The back teeth actually aid in the chewing and breaking down of food with their surfaces.
- Premolars are smaller than molars and help with the chewing process by crushing food. There are also two premolars in each quadrant of the mouth and they are situated in-between the molars and incisors.
How Saliva Starts the Digestive Process
When you eat food, it’s first mixed with saliva that is secreted
by sets of glands. The three main salivary glands are the parotid,
submandibular and sublingual glands.
Parotid glands are located at the side of the face on the inside
of your cheeks. They have an opening where the secretion
occurs, called Stensen’s duct. It’s the largest of the salivary
glands that helps with mastication and swallowing mostly of
Submandibular glands are located on the inner side of the
lower jawbone. This gland produces amylase to break down
starches and mucous cells to help lubricate the throat.
Sublingual glands are located beneath the tongue. They
produce mucin that helps promote the production of saliva.
Most of saliva is produced during waking hours, and decreases
while you sleep. If you wake up with dry mouth and morning
breath, the reason is due to lower saliva production helping
your oral hygiene. The sublingual glands function to help
lubricate and bind food, which is needed for easy swallowing.
Without adequate saliva with resulting dry mouth, swallowing
can become difficult and increase the risk of choking as
food gets lodged in the throat.
You Need Healthy Teeth to Chew And Digest Food
Anyone who has experienced a toothache knows it’s difficult
to eat if you have pain. Misalignment, infection and missing
teeth can all affect proper chewing, breakdown of foods and
therefore, proper digestion.
The teeth are said to be in occlusion when they fit together
ideally. That is, the upper fit slightly over the lower teeth and
the cusp tips (pointy surfaces) of the molars fit the grooves of
the opposing molars. Proper occlusion keeps the cheeks and
lips from being bitten and the lower teeth protect the tongue
and keep it in place.
If your teeth do not align ideally you have malocclusion.
Heredity, poor childhood habits, such as thumb sucking,
tongue thrusting, prolonged use of pacifier or bottle can be
some of the causes of malocclusion.
Malocclusion may also have been the result of an injury
or fracture of the jaw. Tumors can also cause malocclusion.
Other causes can include ill-fitting dental fillings, crowns,
Not replacing missing teeth in a timely fashion, can cause
surrounding teeth to shift, bringing about misalignment of
teeth. This malocclusion cannot only affect your appearance
but also difficulty in biting or chewing foods. Misalignment
of teeth cannot be underestimated and should be corrected.
Your ability to chew your food properly is just as important
as the quality of the food you eat. The American Dental Association
(ADA) recommends proper daily oral hygiene as
the number one way to keep your teeth healthy. Flossing and
brushing are the main tools that are needed. Below are some
tips on how to properly keep your mouth clean and healthy
for a beautiful smile and healthy digestion.
Oral Hygiene 101
Brushing and flossing properly is very important. If you
quickly run a toothbrush over your teeth three times a day
and floss quickly without properly cleaning under the gums,
germs continue to cause harm to your teeth with resulting
tooth decay, gum disease and even worse, lead to loose teeth.
Ask your dental professional how to floss properly. But in
summary, hold a small part of the floss between your fingers,
and wrap the floss around each side of the tooth and gently
extend it under your gums. Slow up and down movements
will clean these areas that a toothbrush cannot reach. Use a
clean piece of floss for each tooth. Floss first to release food
and plaque stuck under the gums and between the teeth, and
follow with brushing and rinsing.
Make sure to brush your gums as well as every side of every
tooth. If you can’t brush after every meal, rinse with water
or chew xylitol chewing gum. Brushing and flossing at night
is crucial because saliva production slows down as you sleep,
which means your mouth is more prone to attack by bacteria.
Dry mouth can also be a problem and proper brushing
and flossing can help prevent gum disease and tooth decay,
which are typically more likely with reduced saliva.
Using effective toothpaste and mouthwash is very important.
Baking soda toothpaste with xylitol is a good choice
for toothpaste and mouthwash. The benefits of baking soda
toothpaste are many including helping remove stains, to help
make your teeth appear whiter.
Don’t think just because a product label says ‘natural
toothpaste’ that it’s good for you. Many contain saccharin
and/or sodium lauryl sulfate, which can actually cause dry
mouth. For the best toothpaste and mouthwash use:
- Alcohol-free mouthwash—alcohol dries the mouth and changes the pH to what germs like. This is one reason drinking excessive alcoholic beverages is also bad for healthy mouth. Mouthwash with xylitol is excellent because it helps flow of saliva.
- Xylitol natural toothpaste and mouthwash—studies report xylitol has many benefits for a healthy mouth when used regularly in toothpaste, and especially in chewing gum. It helps promote saliva, which is good for dry mouth. It’s also been shown to help prevent tooth decay.
Take care of your teeth and gums with proper daily routine of
brushing and flossing. Eat nutritious, healthy foods and your
tummy will thank you.