This series of articles focus on the nutritional aspect of dental health — the root cause behind the most prevalent dental diseases of tooth decay (cavities) and periodontal disease followed by my recommendations that will promote dental health for a lifetime, and naturally lead to helping make your life a long and healthy one.
There are many natural or holistic recommendations to prevent and treat dental diseases, from herbal preparations to oil pulling. While many of these techniques have some usefulness, typically as pain relief (palliative), they surprisingly have more in common with the general approach taken by allopathic or typical Western medicine — in that they merely reduce symptoms temporarily. This is unsatisfactory because they do not address the underlying causes of dental disease.
Two fundamental dental diseases are tooth decay and periodontal disease. Both are consequences of nutritional deficiencies and consumption of processed food. Most tooth decay starts in the dentin, and then spreads outward. Parents frequently exclaim in bewilderment, “But he can’t have cavities! I swear he brushes his teeth twice a day!”
They shake their heads in resignation and ask hopelessly, “What else can we do?” Frightening people (especially children) with the inevitability of cavities unless they brush and floss their teeth is pointless. However, any prevention program that focuses on eating nutritious, natural food, taking high quality whole food supplements (not simply vitamin isolates), and brushing and flossing daily will be more successful in the long run.
While good dental hygiene is important, dental health is not separate from overall health. The same principles that promote good health will also promote good dental health. Just as the eyes are the windows to the soul; the mouth is the looking glass, through which one can glimpse the health of the body. The presence of tooth decay and periodontal disease are indicators of systemic inflammation and an over-acidic body condition. Failure to address the underlying causes may lead to more serious health consequences. Periodontal disease is linked to higher incidence of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, miscarriage, premature births, low birth weight babies, and, of course, tooth loss.
rapid change in the human diet & increase in disease
Poor nutrition underlies most illness (disease). Dental disease – such as tooth decay and periodontal disease – is no exception. When people were mainly hunter-gatherers, they ate very differently than we do now. Our diet has changed over the millennia, especially in the last 100 years since the introduction of industrial agriculture. Food has become less nutritious as the soil has been depleted of nutrients and contains many toxins and pesticide residues.
In the past fifty years, the nutritional quality and vitality of our food has steadily declined. At the same time, the amount of processed food we eat has increased exponentially. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Dr. Weston A. Price studied cultures around the world and found that dental disease (including orthodontic malocclusions – misalignments) was practically non-existent among cultures that still ate their traditional diets. In contrast, cultures that had been purportedly “civilized,” that is, exposed to Western processed foods – often including a higher-sugar-content – had considerably higher rates of dental disease and malocclusions.
depleted soils, less nutritious foods
It has been shown that the mineral content of vegetables grown today is much lower than it was only fifty years ago.
Over the past century, industrialized farming has led to depleted soils and, thereby, foods with less vitamins and minerals.
Consequently, humans who consume such foods encounter vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Mineral deficiency is correlated with having an acidic body environment, which is one of the underlying conditions of all illness. Digesting processed food, particularly carbohydrates, requires our bodies to use up our mineral reserves. If we are already eating a diet deficient in minerals, we do not have the ability to maintain an alkaline pH. Supplementation with high quality food based supplements is necessary to replace the minerals lacking in the soil and depleted by the digestion of processed foods.
processed foods and poor nutrition
Previously, I discussed the issue of less nutrient rich food as a result of soil depletion. Processed foods, including processed carbohydrates and processed vegetable oils, masquerading as healthy organic foods, and high sugar or flour diets compound the issue by leading to an over-acidic – or inflammatory condition in our bodies. Our bodies need to maintain a balanced pH level — not too acidic and not too basic (alkaline). In order to neutralize the acidity caused by our poor food choices, our bodies will use minerals that are stored in our tissues, organs, and bones.
When we are deficient in minerals to begin with, we end up with an overall acidic condition in our bodies that can make us more susceptible to pain and all chronic degenerative diseases—including periodontal disease, tooth decay, cancers, and even Lyme disease.
Current popular wisdom would have us believe that calcium deficiency is rampant in America and due largely to a lack of milk consumption. The solutions presented to us are to consume more processed dairy, to take calcium supplements, or expensive “quick-fix” prescription drugs. Indeed, calcium deficiency is rampant, but it’s due to our bodies’ leaching it from within in order to neutralize the acidity caused by our poor diets. The well-advertised — and well-funded methods of “reducing” calcium deficiency simply allude to the symptoms but don’t address preventing the cause in the first place. Calcium and other mineral deficiencies can be prevented by reducing the body’s acidity by, among other things, making alkalizing food choices at the markets and restaurants.
carbohydrates and nutrition
One of the main problems underlying all disease processes is uncontrolled or excess blood sugar. Processed carbohydrates and whole grains both contain a high glycemic index. We were not designed to be grain eaters, and one of the consequences is chronic inflammation as carbohydrates (simple and complex) cause a rapidly rising and falling blood sugar and depletion of mineral reserves.
High carbohydrate consumption has also been implicated in high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. From a dental standpoint, the plaque we urge you to brush and floss off your teeth comes from carbohydrates.
A diet that minimizes or, better yet, eliminates these foods will best support long-term health. A Paleo-type diet would achieve this. Fruit, which is high in sugar, is best when local and in season. It digests quickly, so it is best eaten by itself 20-30 minutes before meals. It is best to eat organic food, or as our grandparents called it — food. Local food is preferable, whenever available.
Another nutritional factor in inflammation is poor quality fats. About fifty years ago, the concept that cholesterol was at the root of cardiovascular disease was introduced, and people were advised to eat less red meat and any food that contained cholesterol. Using vegetable oils that were not traditionally eaten by humans – such as sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, and the ubiquitous canola was recommended. That advice is erroneous, since most vegetable oil contributes to inflammation.
Seed and bean oils like canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, and corn are a recent phenomenon. They were not eaten by earlier humans because they could not be extracted from their seeds until the advent of mechanical, high temperature extraction and chemical bleaching and deodorizing. These high-tech extraction techniques create high heat leading to trans-fat creation.
Our bodies cannot utilize these oils and interfere with biochemical pathways and processes that require essential oils for example, our immune system. Since the introduction of highly processed vegetable oils, the rates of cardiovascular and other chronic degenerative diseases steadily climb.
Dental health is also dependent on a sufficient intake of healthy essential fats and oils. Healthy fats and oils are found in nature. Our bodies can recognize and utilize them. Fats are also the body’s preferred fuel source, as opposed to carbohydrates.
confusing food choices
There are many philosophies about what diets promote optimal health. We have access to such a wide variety of foods (and non-foods) that it can be confusing and overwhelming to the average person, even if that average person had unlimited time to read all the food information available. Busy, frustrated, and exhausted parents – who want to do the best they can for their family – often grab the quick and easy foods kids will surely eat rather than attempting to figure out what the “latest research” says is best today.
The best diet is as alkaline-promoting and uncomplicated as possible. A simple guideline to attain such a diet is best summed up by food writer Michael Pollan:
“Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.”1
“Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.”2
Just because something can be ingested without making one immediately ill doesn’t make it a food—instead, it can be a substance masquerading as a food. If your great grandmother didn’t eat it, or wouldn’t recognize it as edible, then you don’t eat it either! This wisdom would immediately eliminate large swaths of the average supermarket, fast food joints, and lots of junk in most “natural” food stores (if processed flours are acidifying, making them wholegrain and organic processed flours doesn’t make them less bad – just more expensive).
Vital foods lead to vital people. People thrive when the significantly largest part of their diets are fresh fruits and vegetables. My food pyramid would have fresh fruits and vegetables (local and organic, if possible), including sprouts and lacto-fermented foods as the broad base and most of the height. Nuts and seeds (ideally sprouted) would be the next step on the pyramid, followed by whole grains. The smallest categories would be meats (preferably local, free-range, and grass-fed) and dairy (preferably local, raw, and cultured). Notably lacking would be anything made with flour (pasta, bread) and refined sugars. I would try to stick to naturally available oils, such as extra virgin and first pressed olive oil, sesame oil, or butter (and fish oils for supplementation). I would avoid unnatural, indigestible, highly processed fats such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and the ubiquitous canola oil. These latter oils are best reserved for lubricating machinery.
Finally, lest I be accused of being a hypocrite (or, perhaps, even worse – a curmudgeon!), I do see a place in my pyramid for sweets and treats—and I do emphasize the word “treat.” Implicit in that word is a sense of occasion and rarity. I place sweets and treats balancing atop the tip of my pyramid: outside of daily fare and a relatively inconsequential portion of a health-promoting, life-sustaining diet.
Making food choices and changes can be intimidating and confusing for the uninitiated and for anyone with children. Many good books are available on natural foods, alkalinity, and inflammatory disease. My general recommendations are geared toward average, healthy people. Most simple natural food plans can be tailored to specific needs. Every individual is unique and needs to determine what dietary choice is best for them. For anyone attempting to overcome present illness, I recommend consulting with a professional certified nutritionist (which is not the same as a registered dietitian) or other professional. I believe the investment in time and money will be more than paid back in fewer visits to physicians and dentists, better health, and a feeling of well-being over a lifetime.
The same diet that will promote good health will also promote good dental health. A Paleo-style regimen minimizes – or preferably eliminates – grains and other food-like substances, and focuses on recognizable foods: mostly vegetables, fruits in season, and high quality animal and vegetable fats. While it is not feasible to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, a Paleo lifestyle would be beneficial for the vast majority of people.
Nutrition is the largest contributor to the underlying problem of all disease– including dental disease. No specific foods will keep you dentally healthy. A well-balanced diet of healthy food choices will maintain good dental health.