Recently, we have been talking a lot about the various pieces of how to stop cavities and reverse tooth decay.
Understanding the structure of teeth and how teeth decay are parts of the puzzle. Grasping the significance that pH, sugar, saliva and the microbes implicated with tooth decay have is another piece.
Today we want to step back from ‘in the mouth’ and take a broader look at why part of the path to reversing tooth decay is a factor of diet and lifestyle.
From a simple yet holistic view, the reason why diet and lifestyle have such an important impact on our oral health is because our teeth are alive. Each tooth has blood and nerve flow through it as well as a flow of fluid through the tiny holes in our teeth which cleanses our teeth, called dentinal fluid flow.
So, given that our teeth are alive, it makes sense that if we choose to habituate eating ‘less than optimal’ foods or choose a very stressful life, our teeth are going to suffer the consequences.
With this in mind, here are three broad ideas each of us can apply to help us along our path to stop cavities and reverse tooth decay.
Eat nutrient-dense foods to increase food-based vitamins and minerals
The landmark work of Dr. Weston Price provides us a rich history of how our ancestors were able to live, for the most part, with little to no tooth decay throughout their entire lives.
Full disclosure, the scope of this article is not going to do Dr. Price’s work justice. (You can read, “What to eat to support greater oral health” to get a more in-depth look at Dr. Price’s research)
So, if we extract just one gem from his research, it’s clear that we must eat as nutritious of a diet as possible to provide our bodies (and teeth) the necessary nutrition to thrive.
Dr. Price found, across diverse peoples from around the globe, that those eating their traditional ways consumed on average 4 times the minerals and 10 times the fat soluble vitamins as ‘modern’ peoples living in the US. Achieving this level of nutrition can be problematic these days.
The challenge of modern agriculture…
In general, the soils our food is grown in now is in much worse shape than it was in the 1930s when Dr. Price did his research.
With the boom of chemistry centric agriculture in the 1950s, the nutritional value of our food has steadily declined for the past 65 years.
This is why an heirloom tomato grown organically that you get from a local farmer’s market has WAY more flavor than a conventional tomato. There’s just no comparison of the nutrition of the two tomatoes. In fact, talking tomatoes, some research suggests that organic tomatoes have twice the level of health-giving antioxidants than tomatoes grown conventionally (aka in pesticides and chemical fertilizers).
Sources of minerals and quality fat soluble vitamins…
Really, the best way we have learned to establish a baseline nutritional diet is to eat foods grown organically, preferably in your local area, in the season that they come ripe.
There’s a reason why pumpkins and other big squash ripen in the fall (in the northern hemisphere).
Baking up a pumpkin (or butternut, yum!) and adding some warming spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, curry, etc) with plenty of quality butter, helps nourish our nutritional needs while it honors the coming winter and our body’s natural desire to ‘keep the inner fire strong’.
It goes without saying that meaty soups (prepared from healthy animals raised on pasture) with seasonal veggies, is a life-restoring meal wherever on the planet you call home.
One historical example of reversing tooth decay…
In fact, before we steer away from the importance of vitamins and minerals, let’s quickly discuss how Dr. Price was able to reverse tooth decay in children.
Dr. Price was successful in helping a number of children resist decay and even stop existing cavities by feeding them one really nutritious meal a day.
Once a day, the children would eat a big lunch of a hearty stew with meat and veggies, plus a glass of raw milk, and whole wheat rolls from wheat that had been freshly milled. For good measure, Dr. Price added some cod liver oil and butter oil to supplement vitamins A, D, and K2.
Other than this one meal, the children ate their normal diets. The results were astounding.
This is really good news for those of us who feel like we have to eat a ‘perfect diet’ in order to reverse existing decay. Perhaps ‘good enough’ (and not stressing to reach the unreachable ‘perfect’) is… good enough?
Avoid foods that rob you…
While Dr. Price did some profound work here as well, let’s shift to the research of Drs. Edward and May Mellanby to discuss what not to eat.
The Mellanby’s did some tremendous research with orphans to determine what foods provoked decay that you can read about in our article ‘What foods undermine our oral health and why’.
The results the Mellanby’s got are similarly impressive as Dr. Price.
The children eating the ‘remineralizing diet’ had 93% fewer cavities than those following the ‘standard diet’. In addition, pre-existing cavities in the remineralizing diet group actually healed without dental intervention.
What was the difference between the diets?
The remineralizing diet contained more minerals (calcium and phosphorus were targeted) and vitamins (namely vitamin D).
While already valuable, the specific gift that Drs. Mellanby bring to our work is how certain naturally occurring compounds, called phytic acid or phytates, act as ‘anti-nutrients’ in a way and inhibit our ability to absorb some minerals (that we need desperately).
So, while Dr. Price was in favor of consuming (in moderation) foods like whole wheat rolls (ok, baked fresh from freshly milled wheat with plenty of butter… drool), Drs. Mellanby suggested decreasing the consumption of foods higher in phytic acid to support greater mineral absorption.
You see, eating a diet high in grains, nuts, seeds, and beans (where we find naturally higher phytic acid) results in lower mineral availability. Back to step one… Increase minerals and vitamins.
Another important factor to their work is that they emphasized the importance of vitamin D. As you probably know, one of the many functions vitamin D has in our bodies is to increase the absorption of calcium from foods we eat. Increase vitamins and minerals…
Interestingly, the Mellanby’s showed that humans can eat a bit of sugar daily and still remineralize their teeth. However, if you really, really want to ramp up your ability to reverse tooth decay, best to slash sugar intake…
Manage your dentinal fluid flow…
The work of Dr. Ralph Steinman still stands as some of our favorite to study. You can take a deeper dive into his work with our article, “Why teeth decay (and how to stop it)”
Steinman brought us the fact that our teeth actually have a flow of fluid through them, called ‘dentinal fluid flow’ which cleanses our teeth throughout each day. This fluid flows from inside our teeth ‘outward’ to remove microbes like strep mutans trying to cause decay.
However, this fluid flow can also reverse and become a ‘vacuum’ and give the thug bugs a free ride into our teeth (talk about a perfect storm for decay!)
The main factors Dr. Steinman found that cause the naturally healthy flow of fluid in our teeth to reverse and become destructive are…
- High sugar diet
- Stress – (we will address this lifestyle factor in a later article)
Yep, the truth isn’t always pretty. But we know you’d rather hear the truth than believe some fairy tale.
Interestingly, the very best way Dr. Steinman found to create an environment that caused the most decay was to eat/drink sugary snacks between meals.
Takeaway gems to stop tooth decay…
So, with all this in place, let’s shake down some real time actions we can live by today.
- Eat a really hearty meal at least once a day.
- Limit the amount of sugary foods you eat as they can cause us to feel full but not provide any nutrition.
- If/when we eat sweets, eat them with a meal. (Not between meals which provide the very worst conditions)
- Watch your grains, nuts, seeds. There’s research that suggests phytic acid is health giving in some ways, so resist the temptation to go fanatic on this. Moderation is best unless you have gut issues that cause you to eliminate any of these.
Let’s close with a quote from Dr. Steinman that draws this all together…
“As unpopular as it might seem, the control of caries (cavities) may rest upon a way of life which would include sound nutrition, freedom from undue stress, sunlight, exercise and water. Having cake plus between meal snacks and healthy teeth, too, has so far eluded science.”
Next up we will explore how lifestyle and stress levels impact our oral health, for better or for worse.
So, what do you do to help you and your family stop cavities and reverse tooth decay? What is a wholesome meal that you enjoy to make/eat? Please share in the comments below so we can all learn from one another. Together Everyone Achieves More.
Feel free to check out the next entry in this series: Is Fluoride Safe to Use?
Helpful, Related Resources:
How to stop cavities and reverse tooth decay [article]
How teeth decay [article]
The perfect storm for tooth decay [article]
What TO eat to support optimal oral health [article]
What foods undermine our oral health and why [article]
Why teeth decay (and how to stop it)? [article]