[Skip to Content]

Key Facts

Nutrition and Oral Health

Photo of a bag of groceries

  Share these facts to help improve the oral health of pregnant women, children, and adolescents and their families.

  • Oral health and nutrition have a multifaceted relationship. Oral infectious diseases impact ability to eat and nutrition status. Likewise, nutrition and diet can affect the development and integrity of the oral cavity and progression of oral diseases. 1

  • Dietary factors, primarily frequent consumption of simple sugars that feed decay-causing bacteria, initiate the caries process. 2
  • Evidence supports a relationship between the amount of sugars ingested and the development of dental caries across age groups. 3
  • Children who frequently consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) at age 10–12 months are far more likely than those who do not to have tooth decay at age 6, suggesting that infancy may be an important time to instill healthy beverage habits. 4
  • Children from households with low or very low food security have significantly higher caries prevalence than children living in fully food-secure households. 5
  • Oral health professionals can help children and their parents identify sources of added sugars and provide guidance to decrease intake of added sugars, thereby improving nutrient intake and reducing caries risk. 6
  • Common risk factors associated with both obesity and dental caries include developmental conditions, socioeconomic status, acculturation, stress, and diet. These findings support a holistic approach in which interventions and policies target common risk factors, such as SSB intake, as a way to prevent multiple disease. 7
  • National attention is needed to help develop comprehensive feeding and oral health care policies for child care centers; such policies may help reduce the epidemics of childhood obesity and dental caries. 8
  • Oral health professionals can work as part of an interprofessional team that includes registered dietitian nutritionists to improve oral health and overall health through provision of weight screening, obesity education, and intervention to children who are at risk for obesity. 9
  • There are several challenges in improving nutrition teaching in dental education, including a lack of guidelines to assist in the development of core nutrition curricula, few trained faculty members teaching nutrition, few faculty members who can model and implement nutrition models in clinical settings, and a lack of rigorous research on the efficacy of clinical interventionss. 10
  • Many children with special health care needs (CSHCN) have restricted diets, and understanding the oral health implications of restricted diets can help the dental team better manage the needs of CSHCN. 11
  • Higher maternal diet quality in the year before pregnancy is associated with lower risks for neural tube defects and orofacial clefts. 12


  1. Touger-Decker R, Mobley C; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Oral health and nutrition. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113(5):693–701.
  2. Palmer CA, Gilbert JA; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The impact of fluoride on health. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 112(9):1443–1453.
  3. Moynihan PJ, Kelly SAM. 2014. Effect on caries of restricting sugars intake: Systematic review to inform WHO guidelines. Journal of Dental Research 93(1):8–18.
  4. Park S, Lin M, Onofrak S, Li R. 2015. Association of sugar-sweetened beverage intake during infancy with dental caries in 6-year-olds. Clinical Nutrition Research 4(1):9–17.
  5. Chi DL, Masterson EE, Carle AC, Manci LA, Coldwell SE. 2014. Socioeconomic status, food security, and dental caries in US children: Mediation analyses of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007–2008. American Journal of Public Health 104(5):860–864.
  6. Marshall TA. 2015. Nomenclature, characteristics, and dietary intakes of sugars. Journal of the American Dental Association 146(1):61–64.
  7. Chi DL, Chu F, Luu M. In press. A scoping review of epidemiologic risk factors for pediatric obesity: Implications for future childhood obesity and dental caries prevention research. Journal of Public Health Dentistry.
  8. Kim J, Kaste LM, Fadavi S, Benjamin Neelon SE. 2012. Are state child care regulations meeting national oral health and nutritional standards? Pediatric Dentistry 34(4):317–324.
  9. Ziegler J, Hughes CV. 2016. Weighing in on pediatric obesity: Weight screening at the dental visit. Journal of the American Dental Association 147(2):146–150.
  10. DiMaria-Ghalili RA, Edwards M, Friedman G, Jaferi A, Kohlmeier M, Kris-Etherton P, Lenders C, Palmer C, Wylie-Rosett J. 2013. Capacity building in nutrition science: Revisiting the curricula for medical professionals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1306:21–40.
  11. Moursi AM, Fernandaz JB, Daronch M, Zee L, Jones CL. 2010. Nutrition and oral health considerations in children with special health care needs: Implications for oral health care providers. Pediatric Dentistry 32(4):333–342.
  12. Carmichael SL, Yang W, Feldkamp ML, Munger RG, Siega-Riz AM, Botto LD, Shaw G; National Birth Defects Prevention Study. 2012. Reduced risks of neural tube defects and orofacial clefts with higher diet quality. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 166(2):121–126.

National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center. 2017. Key Facts: Nutrition and Oral Health. Washington, DC: National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.