Does this situation sound familiar? You’re going for your dental check-up. You feel bad because it’s twelve months overdue (maybe eighteen, who’s counting?) But you feel bad for another reason too. At your last visit, your dentist talked about how diet influences your oral health.
Were you told you’re eating too much sugar? And that sugar causes dental caries?
Now think back. Did you eat less sugar after your last visit? For how long?
If the answer is ‘not long at all!’, don’t worry. Many people will give the same answer (if they’re honest). Yet everyone knows the link between sugar in the diet and dental decay, don’t they? Even children usually know sugar is bad for their teeth.
Yet dental caries is still a huge problem. And people are still eating plenty of sugar.
So, is removing sugar from your diet the holy grail for healthy teeth?
Not really. I’ll explain why.
A long time ago I realized that sugar is just one part of the puzzle.
The quantity of sugar in your diet isn’t entirely your fault. You’ll see why later.
Similarly, your dental caries or disease aren’t all your fault either.
Many of my patients do eat too much sugar. However, they also don’t eat enough of the foods good for their teeth. If you want healthy teeth you need to eat foods that strengthen teeth. What you do eat is just as important as what you don’t eat. A diet for healthy teeth is about more than cutting out sugar.
So, what does a diet for healthy teeth look like?
Dietary guidelines have never focused on healthy teeth
Let’s look at how our dietary guidelines have distorted how food, teeth, and health fit together.
Since the 60’s and 70’s, dietary advice has shaped our idea of ‘healthy eating’. But very little of that dietary advice has been based on eating for healthy teeth.
For a long time, dentists were alone in their call to reduce sugar. But as the link between sugar, obesity and type II diabetes began to emerge, that changed. Today, sugar reduction is a mainstay of health advice. The World Health Organization now advises a maximum of 5-9 teaspoons of sugar per day. Babies, toddlers, and children should have even less.
To confuse matters more, in that time there have been more fad diets than… well, hot dinners. Low fat, low GI, low FODMAP. , Atkins, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, cabbage soup, weight watchers. The list is endless, but these diets all have one thing in common. None of them are concerned with healthy teeth.
The low-fat diet has had the biggest influence on what is thought of as a ‘healthy diet’. However, a very low-fat diet is a recipe for dental disease. By cutting out saturated fats and cholesterol entirely, you remove many foods that are good for teeth. To make matters worse, most people I see end up eating more sugar and refined carbs. And they are not good for your teeth (or general health).
Your teeth won’t be healthy on a very low-fat diet. Yet doctors and dentists follow the line taken by heart foundations. They recommend low-fat diets to avoid heart attacks. I myself spent a long time telling patients to eat low-fat for their health.
Today, the evidence connecting saturated fat and cholesterol to heart attack risk has been re-evaluated. They’re not the villains we once thought. And reducing our cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat intake has only done harm to our teeth.
Food for Healthy Teeth
Weston A. Price’s diet focused on food for healthy teeth. No other diet considers he idea that foods can strengthen teeth and help children avoid braces.
The Dental Diet is based on his principles, together with research that has emerged since his era. Science now tells us that chewing, function, the microbiome, and epigenetics has helped me create a real diet for healthy teeth.
Oh, and it’s delicious by the way!
Let’s look at the three core concerns of The Dental Diet.
Removing foods that HARM your teeth
As you may have guessed, this is about more than sugar. But let’s look at sugar first.
When is sugar not sugar?
Yes, sugar is the devil sitting on your shoulder. No one knows this better than your dentist.
And yes, too much sugar in your diet can contribute to tooth decay. But quitting sugar isn’t easy. Not only is it tasty, it also hides in many processed foods we eat. Sauces, soups, bakery products, prepared meats; it’s everywhere. Sugar can be hidden. It can go by other names like glucose and sucrose. And it’s only part of the picture.
Sugar may be the HARDEST food to remove from your diet. But it’s not the ONLY food to remove.
We now know that sugar causes the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. Strep mutans is one culprit. That’s the sugar and dental caries connection, and it’s proven.
But eating other simple carbs can have similar results. Refined flour is a simple carbohydrate. It’s processed by removing the fiber from the starch carbs. This makes complex carbs into simple carbs like… glucose. Glucose is just a type of sugar.
You can now see why white flour is digested in the body as sugar. And it’s digested in the mouth and gut in a similar way to sugar, too. It’s gobbled up by the bacteria that cause cavities in teeth.
So, removing sugar from the diet really means removal of all refined carbs. These foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, baked goods and any foods with added sugar may ALL be harmful to your teeth.
Processed vegetable oils are also bad for teeth
Health gums are essential for healthy teeth. So you need to avoid foods that increase your risk of gum disease, too.
Did you have bleeding gums when you last visited your dentist?. When your gums bleed, it’s a sign of inflammation. Your gums are designed to deliver immune cells to stop harmful bacteria. Foods that cause inflammation make your immune system more reactive
Refined vegetable or seed oils make up most of the oils in packaged and processed foods. These include oils refined from seeds such as Canola, Sunflower, Corn, Safflower, Grape seed, Rice Bran and Soybean.
The problem is that seed oils are now the main source of fat in most foods on the supermarket shelf. They also are in foods we eat in restaurants and in our take-out.
These oils are very high in omega-6 fats. When we eat those fats, they enter every cell membrane in our body. Omega-6 fatty acids activate inflammation pathways in the body unlike their partner Omega-3 fatty acids. While were designed to eat these fatty acids in a ratio 1:1, today we eat them in a ratio of 16:1. That pushes our body into states of inflammation and also increases our risk of obesity.
They are also very unstable when exposed to heat or cooking. It’s estimated that when you fry vegetable oil, it contains as much as 100 to 200 times more toxic aldehydes than the safe daily limit set by the World Health Organization.
Foods that promote oral health need to reduce inflammation. Refined vegetable oils, including margarine, are likely to increase the immune response in the mouth and gut.
Oils to avoid:
- Rice bran
To prevent inflammation and gum disease, fats should be from natural whole food sources. These create stability gum membranes and strengthen the immune system. Here are some healthy fats to eat:
Fats to include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
Eating foods that strengthen teeth
Removing harmful food is one part of a diet for oral health. But a diet for healthy teeth must also include foods to strengthen teeth.
Teeth are made from the same cells that make bone. These cells begin in the bone marrow. The ‘osteo immune system’ there contains stem cells that make either bone-forming or immune cells. These cells are called odontoblasts.
After teeth are formed, odontoblasts stay inside the tooth. There, they manage the inner tooth layer (dentin) They have both a mineralizing action and an immune action. Odontoblasts can lay down ‘repair dentin’ if there is an attack by bacteria. But they are also constantly monitoring and releasing immune factors.
These cells are controlled by the fat-soluble vitamin system. Vitamin D and vitamin A play a role in tooth formation odontoblast behaviour. Vitamin K2 activates the proteins that carry minerals and immune factors.
Without these three vitamins, your tooth enamel doesn’t form properly nor does its inner immune or defense system work.
That’s why it’s vital to eat enough foods containing these fat-soluble vitamins. And today, many people don’t. You can see the results of this deficiency in their mouth.
So, where can we find good sources of fat-soluble vitamins?
Your body also makes Vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, so make sure you get enough sunlight to top up your levels.
Fat-soluble means what it says. Without natural whole fats in your diet, you won’t access or absorb these vital nutrients.
Maintaining oral microbiome balance
Last but not least, maintaining a balanced oral microbiome is crucial for dental health.
There are over 700 species of microbes in your oral microbiome (the microbial environment of your mouth). Overall health – and dental health – requires balance and diversity among those microbes.
Your oral microbiome helps manage minerals in the mouth. Mineral levels need to be tightly controlled to maintain healthy bones and teeth. The bacteria are also in communication with the immune system. They trade information and help to train its responses to harmful invaders.
Probiotic bacteria act to stop the growth of harmful species. They’re also important for mineralization in putting minerals into teeth. This means they’re vital for healthy teeth and gums, helping to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. But these ‘good’ bacteria need your help. They need you to feed and replenish them!
But how can you balance the bacteria in your mouth? Again, it’s mainly down to your diet. The foods you eat can cause imbalance in the oral microbiome. Here are the foods you need to eat to ensure it stays balanced.
Prebiotic fiber (dietary fibers that beneficial bacteria depend on).
And a broad range of cooked and raw vegetables.
Probiotic foods deliver live microbiota to the mouth. They include:
- Cultured butter
- Probiotic yoghurts
Making these dietary changes will really boost your dental health. And a diet that is good for healthy teeth is good for your overall health, too.
Give The Dental Diet a try. It’s delicious – and I know you will soon be feeling and looking better than ever. You can get started by downloading the free EBook here.
Now we want to hear from you. Please leave your questions in the comments below.
Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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