Nutrition and Dental Health
When most people think about the connection between nutrition (diet) and dentistry, they think primarily of the detrimental effects of acidic foods, sugar, or foods that can stain the teeth, like coffee. But acid, sugar, and coffee are not the only foods that can affect your dental health. The truth is that everything you eat has an effect on your mouth and oral health, either positive or negative.
It is a confirmed, long-established scientific fact that people who do not eat carbohydrates experience no tooth decay (no cavities), and very little incidence of gum disease. That may sound like a bold statement, but disease-causing bacteria proliferate when carbohydrates (sugars, wheat and grains, potatoes) are consumed. Simple carbohydrates ferment quickly with bacteria that are resident in the mouth. These bacteria produce acid, which in turn, can cause decay/cavities.
Carbohydrates are also often what we call inflammatory foods foods that cause inflammation throughout the body, including the brain, the gut, the heart, the vascular system, the immune system, joints and muscles, and so on.
There have been scientific studies proving that the heavily processed and pureed foods we give to babies inhibit the proper development of their jaws, contributing to smaller faces, smaller airways, crooked lower teeth, TMJ, and the development of a weak chin. When our jaws have not formed correctly, we are also more likely to develop impacted wisdom teeth and poor breathing due to a smaller nose and upper respiratory tract.
The contemporary Western diet, including carbohydrates, is implicated in bad dental bites and smaller viscerocraniums (face bones). This is not only an esthetic issue but often leads to serious issues of chronically inflamed and underdeveloped airways, which in turn, leads to sleep disordered breathing (sleep apnea) and TMJ disorders.
So, how can you eat in a way that promotes healthy teeth and gums?
The Paleo Diet
Im an avid proponent of the Paleo Diet, a way of eating that has gotten a bad rap in the press. People tend to focus on the name of the diet, saying that we cannot or should not eat the same as people during the Paleolithic period of history. Whether or not we eat exactly like those during Paleolithic times is unimportant. The diet is based on the way people ate prior to industrialization, and it is scientifically sound. My own general health and dental health have improved immensely on this diet, and the same is true for my patients.
We have evidence, for example, that tooth decay was virtually nonexistent thousands of years ago. Many of the issues we have with our teeth, as well as the common diseases of our civilization (heart disease, Diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, food allergies, and more), began after industrialization. They are largely due to the processed foods and chemicals of the modern world.
Skeletons of our ancestors, who ate a lot of meat, show that they had large jaws, straight teeth and few of the diseases that we suffer from today. Unfortunately, today’s meats are filled with unnatural substances and are processed in unnatural ways. Hormones, antibiotics, and inhumane conditions in the meat industry create food that is not fit for human consumption.
Meanwhile, the high grain content of our diet has created an epidemic of gluten sensitivities and diseases like Crohns, Celiac, Colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, among others. Why are grains such a problem? The truth is that they fight with our digestive systems. Its a fight for their survival they want to come out of our digestive systems intact so that they can continue to proliferate. As a result, it is difficult for our digestive systems to break them down, and they wreak havoc with our bodies.
Of course, we feed cattle and chickens grains and consider it a good thing that they’re eating all vegetarian diets. But these animals were not meant to eat grains exclusively. Cows primarily eat grass, and a healthy diet for chickens includes a lot of insects. These animals cannot get the natural foods their diets require if they are kept in factory farms rather than roaming free as they were meant to do where grass and insects are available.
For this reason, people who eat the Paleo Diet consume meats such as grass-fed, grass-finished beef. Grass-finished is a term that came into being because even those farms that allow their cattle to graze often feed them grains right before slaughter. Cattle that are grass-finished eat only grass throughout their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find chickens even at the best farms that do not eat grains, so many of those with conditions like Celiac Disease have had to give up chicken entirely.
What about dairy products? We are the only species that drinks milk from a different species than our own. In short, dairy is not a natural food for the body and causes a lot of problems from lactose intolerance to mucous formation in the sinuses and digestive tract. Another misconception is that dairy products are necessary for calcium, and calcium helps keep our teeth healthy. Yes, dairy products contain calcium, but it is very difficult for the body to assimilate that calcium when we eat or drink dairy products. Calcium can be absorbed in the body much more easily from other foods, such as dark leafy greens and seaweed.
There is no question that adopting the Paleo lifestyle takes planning and work. You cannot grab a quick bite at McDonalds or pick up some snacks at 7-Eleven and maintain the diet. However, the health benefits are enormous. You would be much less likely to develop those modern-day diseases I mentioned, and the difference in your overall health, as well as the health of your teeth and gums, would be significant.
The Oral Microbiome
Just as your diet has an effect on your dental health, poor dental health has an effect on your entire body. For example, inflammation in the mouth and other oral diseases can cause low-grade inflammation in other parts of the body. Studies have directly linked diseases of the mouth with heart disease. People with gum disease are also more likely to develop diabetes.
After all, the saliva in your mouth contains digestive enzymes, so digestion actually begins before you swallow. Plus, every time you swallow, whatever is in your mouth enters your digestive tract.
The issue has to do with the microflora the approximately 700 species of bacteria in your mouth. The ratio of healthy bacteria and disease-causing bacteria must remain balanced. When the disease-causing bacteria enter your bloodstream, they wreak havoc throughout the body. So, what may start in the mouth does not end in the mouth. Nothing in your body happens in a vacuum. Its all connected.
Unfortunately, keeping the oral microbiome balanced is not as easy as gargling antibacterial mouthwash. These formulas are not capable of discerning between good and bad bacteria, so they tend to kill everything, which can further throw off the balance in your mouth.
Your next question might be, What about probiotics? When I take antibiotics, I take probiotics or eat live-cultured yogurt to restore the bacteria ratio in my digestive system. Thats an excellent question, but probiotics, unfortunately, do not work directly in the mouth.
That said, probiotics in the diet will indeed have a positive effect on your oral health to a degree. For example, fermented vegetables, Kombucha, and Kefir are great ways to get probiotics into your diet. These good bacteria can help to restore a healthy ratio to your digestive system, which will, in turn, have a positive effect on your teeth and gums.
If you want to directly improve the oral microbiome, however, studies show that certain supplements do make their way to the mouth and improve the bacterial ratio. So, besides proper oral hygiene per our instructions, you can take the following nutritional supplements to promote oral health:
- Vitamin C
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin K2
- Homeopathic remedies such as Silica, Calcium phosphate, Calcium carbonate, and Calcarea Fluorica
Nutrition as Medicine
Traditional medicine tends to diagnose, rather than prevent, disease. It also isolates symptoms and organs, failing to recognize the interconnection between all organs and systems of the body. Then, it treats the symptoms instead of focusing on what has caused the symptoms. This is similar to putting a bandage on a nail in your foot instead of removing the nail.
Pharmaceuticals can be vital in some cases, but they are also almost always toxic. We can often heal the root cause of symptoms through nutrition. When the proper nutrients are provided to the body, it begins to function properly, and health is restored. Then, the toxicity and side effects of pharmaceutical drugs can be avoided entirely.