A Look Back at…Keeping Your Teeth Naturally Healthy

Originally posted June 4, 2015

The Caries Crisis

tooth models showing cariesAccording to the latest CDC statistics, almost all adults have experienced dental caries – 91% to be exact.

“It is not what people are doing wrong,” Dr. Bruce Dye, who led the survey, told Today. “It is maybe what we can do better.”

Well, that’s a way of putting it – and a positive one at that. Yet tooth decay doesn’t happen just because it happens. Some “wrong” things are playing a role – or, at the very least, are doing little to help.

Consider fluoride, which the Today write-up mentions as one intervention that “greatly reduces rates of tooth decay.” Consider that nearly 70% of Americans receive fluoridated water. Consider that in some stores, it is near impossible to find non-fluoridated toothpastes. Fluoride is everywhere.

Then consider again: 91% of American adults have experienced tooth decay. More than a quarter have untreated tooth decay.

The upside to that startling statistic is that it may be partly explained by the fact that more of us are keeping more of our natural teeth for a longer time. In fact, the rate of edentulism – having no teeth – has dropped almost 40% over the past 50 years.

But the ideal, of course, is not just to keep all your teeth but to keep them in their naturally healthy condition.

A major help is ditching soft drinks and fruit juices – the two biggest culprits when it comes to enamel erosion, which leaves the teeth more vulnerable to decay. Even better is when that’s part of a move to a simpler, more wholesome diet.

It’s interesting to note that our distant ancestors typically had far less oral disease than we do. For instance, people living during the Middle Ages did have problems like worn down or broken teeth, but as recently discussed in a column on Slate:

Contrary to the depiction of medieval peasants with blackened and rotting teeth, the average person in the Middle Ages had teeth that were in very good condition. This is substantially due to one factor—the rarity of sugar in the diet. Most medieval people simply could not afford sugar, and those who could used it sparingly, usually as a seasoning or minor ingredient and almost never as a condiment or the basis of a dish. This means that most people used natural sugars, such as those in fruits and honey; even then, they ate this kind of sugar sparingly. Taken with a diet high in calcium via dairy, high in vegetables and cereals, and low in foods that cause decay, the average medieval person ate the way most modern dentists would recommend for good teeth.

Not surprisingly, tooth decay was actually much less prevalent in the Middle Ages than it became in later centuries, when mass imports of sugar from the tropics made it a staple rather than a rarity. Surveys of archaeological data from the medieval period show that an average of only 20 percent of teeth show any sign of decay, as opposed to up to 90 percent in some early 20th-century populations.

This is totally in line with what Dr. Weston Price found through his observations of indigenous populations. He found that who ate traditional diets consumed at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins than those who ate industrial diets, and had good orofacial development and good oral health. Once they transitioned to a Western, industrial diet with its white flour and refined sugar, crowded, crooked teeth, caries and other problems soon appeared.

Better food: A better way than fluoride to support good oral health.

Image by Xauxa

Fat as the Enemy of Health? Hardly!

healthy fatsFor the first time in human history, we have constant access to more food calories than ever before. Thank advanced, organized agricultural production for that. Food security – yay!

But like any strength overplayed, it has become our Achilles heel.

We eat too much industrialized food. In fact, only 31.2% of US adults are normal weight or less. As for the rest of us?

  • 33.1% are considered overweight.
  • 35.7% are considered obese.
  • Among the obese, 6.3% are considered extremely obese.

Yet these rates rose during a time when fat was considered the enemy and diet foods came into vogue. Many of us cut out high calorie fat by replacing it with “healthier” carbs.

Now science continues to show that we not only have little to fear from fat; good dietary fats support good health.

Case in point? A pair of recent studies on full-fat dairy.

The first, published in Circulation, looked at the effects of consuming full-fat and low-fat dairy on obesity risk in female participants. Those who had the highest levels of dairy fat in their blood had a 46% lower risk of developing diabetes in a span of 15 years, compared to those with the lowest levels.

In the second, published in the American Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that women who consumed the most high-fat dairy products had an 8% reduced risk of being overweight or obese.

This could be because dairy fats help improve the ability of the liver and muscles to break down sugar from food. Or it may be that microbes found in high-fat dairy foods such as cheese improve the body’s response to insulin. But also, since eating more fat offers satiety, it could be that participants just ate fewer carbs and less sugar.

Sugar and refined carbs act as fillers for the absence of fat. The thing is, sugar and carbs support inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the body fuels chronic disease: gum disease, tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer.

And truth be told, your body needs fat – for energy, for proper brain function, for transporting and storing fat-soluble vitamins, cell function, hormone formation, and more.

Contrary to the accepted view, which is not scientifically based, saturated fats do not clog arteries or cause heart disease. In fact, the preferred food for the heart is saturated fat; and saturated fats lower a substance called Lp(a), which is a very accurate marker for proneness to heart disease.

Saturated fats play many important roles in the body chemistry. They strengthen the immune system and are involved in inter-cellular communication, which means they protect us against cancer. They help the receptors on our cell membranes work properly, including receptors for insulin, thereby protecting us against diabetes. The lungs cannot function without saturated fats, which is why children given butter and full-fat milk suffer less often from asthma than children given reduced-fat milk and margarine. Saturated fats are also involved in kidney function and hormone production.

Saturated fats are required for the nervous system to function properly, and over half the fat in the brain is saturated. Saturated fats also help suppress inflammation. Finally, saturated animal fats carry the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, which we need in large amounts to be healthy.

But not all fats are created equal. Those to avoid are trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils), industrially processed oils, and oils from genetically modified crops such as soy and corn.

Instead, look to natural saturated and monounsaturated fats. Butter. Coconut oil. Lard. Extra virgin olive oil. Chicken, duck, or goose fat. Expeller-expressed flax, sesame, or peanut oil. Fish liver oils.

As ever, opt for organic when you can – as well as pastured dairy and other animal products.

These are the kinds of fats our bodies were designed to consume. We’re designed to eat real food, fat and all. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, traditional diets included

  • 30% to 80% fat (most of it saturated and monounsaturated).
  • No refined or denatured foods.
  • Animal protein.
  • Raw dairy.

Maybe all we really need to do is embrace what our ancestors knew all along.

The Caries Crisis

tooth models showing cariesAccording to the latest CDC statistics, almost all adults have experienced dental caries – 91% to be exact.

“It is not what people are doing wrong,” Dr. Bruce Dye, who led the survey, told Today. “It is maybe what we can do better.”

Well, that’s a way of putting it – and a positive one at that. Yet tooth decay doesn’t happen just because it happens. Some “wrong” things are playing a role – or, at the very least, are doing little to help.

Consider fluoride, which the Today write-up mentions as one intervention that “greatly reduces rates of tooth decay.” Consider that nearly 70% of Americans receive fluoridated water. Consider that in some stores, it is near impossible to find non-fluoridated toothpastes. Fluoride is everywhere.

Then consider again: 91% of American adults have experienced tooth decay. More than a quarter have untreated tooth decay.

The upside to that startling statistic is that it may be partly explained by the fact that more of us are keeping more of our natural teeth for a longer time. In fact, the rate of edentulism – having no teeth – has dropped almost 40% over the past 50 years.

But the ideal, of course, is not just to keep all your teeth but to keep them in their naturally healthy condition.

A major help is ditching soft drinks and fruit juices – the two biggest culprits when it comes to enamel erosion, which leaves the teeth more vulnerable to decay. Even better is when that’s part of a move to a simpler, more wholesome diet.

It’s interesting to note that our distant ancestors typically had far less oral disease than we do. For instance, people living during the Middle Ages did have problems like worn down or broken teeth, but as recently discussed in a column on Slate:

Contrary to the depiction of medieval peasants with blackened and rotting teeth, the average person in the Middle Ages had teeth that were in very good condition. This is substantially due to one factor—the rarity of sugar in the diet. Most medieval people simply could not afford sugar, and those who could used it sparingly, usually as a seasoning or minor ingredient and almost never as a condiment or the basis of a dish. This means that most people used natural sugars, such as those in fruits and honey; even then, they ate this kind of sugar sparingly. Taken with a diet high in calcium via dairy, high in vegetables and cereals, and low in foods that cause decay, the average medieval person ate the way most modern dentists would recommend for good teeth.

Not surprisingly, tooth decay was actually much less prevalent in the Middle Ages than it became in later centuries, when mass imports of sugar from the tropics made it a staple rather than a rarity. Surveys of archaeological data from the medieval period show that an average of only 20 percent of teeth show any sign of decay, as opposed to up to 90 percent in some early 20th-century populations.

This is totally in line with what Dr. Weston Price found through his observations of indigenous populations. He found that who ate traditional diets consumed at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins than those who ate industrial diets, and had good orofacial development and good oral health. Once they transitioned to a Western, industrial diet with its white flour and refined sugar, crowded, crooked teeth, caries and other problems soon appeared.

Better food: A better way than fluoride to support good oral health.

Image by Xauxa

Good Nutrition: “Integral” to Oral Health

Day 33/365Last week, we mentioned the connection between gum disease and overall health. Once you recognize the mouth/body connection, it’s easy to see how all the things you do for your general health – eating right, exercising and the like – support healthy teeth and gums, as well.

The importance of eating well was underscored earlier this month by “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals,” the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The latest version of their position paper on diet and oral health makes plain that “nutrition is an integral component” of a healthy mouth.

According to the paper, dental caries “is the most prevalent, chronic, common, and transmissible infectious oral condition in humans.” In addition, a person’s overall health can be affected by tooth loss, since declining periodontal health can lead to diminished dietary quality because of lack of essential nutrients in a person’s diet.

Of course, these aren’t the only ways in which diet can affect dental health – just the more familiar ones. Nutritional deficiencies, notes the paper, can affect a broad array of oral conditions, from caries (cavities) to cancer (and plenty in between), as well as how a person responds to treatment. (You can download a copy of the whole paper here.)

Unfortunately, the AND paper is also pro-fluoride, despite the many well-documented risks and limited support for the efficacy of fluoridation in particular. Keeping a healthful diet, quite frankly, is apt to do much more good for you and your teeth.

And this means more than just avoiding the stuff that can harm your teeth – sugars, soda and the like. It’s about making sure you get the nutrients your teeth, gums and bone need. Here are some of the most important:

  • Antioxidants
    Vitamins C and E are key. These anti-inflammatory agents help your gums stay healthy and reduce oral acidity, which makes it a little tougher for bacteria to colonize. Good sources of C include citrus and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, kale). For E, try eating more whole grains and nuts.
  • Calcium, Magnesium, Phosporus, Zinc, Iron and Trace Minerals
    Minerals support bone growth and maintenance. They’re also essential for remineralizing teeth. Meat, fish and dairy are all rich in minerals, but there are plenty of great plant sources, as well. (See, for instance, this guide to vegan sources of vitamins and minerals.)
  • Vitamins D & K
    Like magnesium, vitamin D helps your body absorb and assimilate calcium more effectively. Helping it do so is vitamin K, which also helps with blood clotting, preventing calcification of the blood vessels and heart valves, and protecting against oxidative damage. While we can get some D through diet – such as fortified dairy – our bodies can actually produce this vitamin with the help of sunlight (10 to 20 minutes a few times each week). Dietary sources of K include dark, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocado and eggs.

Of course, although we know more specifically about how these nutrients work, the relationship between diet and dental health is not anything new. The important research of Dr. Weston Price paved the way…

 

 

Learn more about Dr. Price and his work.

Image by mini true, via Flickr