Take a Bite Out of Dental Disease with Nutrition

Barbara Tritz
· March 5, 2018 ·

11 minutes

Okay my friends, it’s been a while, so hang on to your hats!

Are you frustrated that you brush, floss, irrigate, and pick, and still have cavities or bleeding gums?  Your spouse, who doesn’t, gets glowing reports from the hygienist?!  I was frustrated hearing this too.  Now I may have answers as to why!  Nutrition!

I have finished reading two super books that have again evolved the way I look at tooth decay and bleeding gums/gum disease/ gum infections.  The Dental Diet by Dr. Steven Lin and  Crazy Good Living by Dr. Alvin Danenberg may be game changers in the way I/we fight dental diseases.  What if it’s not all about tooth brushing and flossing (or the lack of it) but rather what we put in our mouths, chew, and swallow that dictates our dental diseases both decay and gum infections?  I’m definitely not saying throw away your floss and brushes, BUT they may not play as big a role in prevention as we’d previously thought.  Big news, right?!?

Know Your History

What if it all came down to what we eat and how we digest it?

Straight teeth

Prehistoric Man Skull

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, both prehistoric man and isolated tribes, even into the 20th century, had straight, disease free, beautiful teeth with little to no gum disease or cavities.  Two to three million years ago our ancestors’ brains started getting bigger, while their jaws started shrinking.  Their eating habits changed.   They started cooking, which made food softer, easier to chew, and more nutritious.

The next big change occurred approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, with the advent of the Agricultural Revolution, and farming of wheat and barley.  Our oral conditions starting changing.  Tooth decay and gum disease were noted in skulls from that time period.  Adding carbohydrates to the diet changed what is called the “microbiome” – the bacteria colonies that had previously existed harmoniously in the mouth.  Now, the “bad” bacteria had a food source in the mouth and took over, changing and decreasing the numbers of “good” bacteria and thus creating dental diseases.

The third big oral change started during the Industrial Revolution.  In the 1700’s the introduction of more processed foods began with the milling of flour.  Adding refined, mass produced and packaged foods created a softer diet.  Then there was a decease in breastfeeding.  All these factors contributed to crooked teeth and underdeveloped jaws.  Well into the 20th century we saw further shrinking of jaws, crowded teeth, and even more impacted wisdom teeth.

Straight teeth – Dr. Westin Price photos

Tooth decay, gum disease, crooked teeth – all previously unknown.  I have looked at bacteria under my phase contrast microscope to solve gum disease issues but it didn’t always work.  Why don’t we look at the cause of these greater changes, rather than just addressing the symptoms?  The cause being our diets – our processed foods, our lack of proper vitamins and minerals,  and our lack of chewing.  The books I just finished, along with Dr. Francis Pottenger’s book Pottenger’s Cats, and Dr. Westin Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration  have caused me to take a much closer look at the foods we eat.

Maybe we’ve been doing things all wrong.

As we know, even with all the dental hygiene appointments, we still have an incredible amount of dental disease, both tooth decay as well as gum disease. Almost 50% of the US population has some level of gum disease.  Crooked teeth and braces are almost a right of passage for our children.  Along with crowded teeth we get smaller jaws, both upper and lower.  This practically ensures a perfect environment for sleep disordered breathing, which leads to a severe lack of our most important nutrient – OXYGEN! – and all the health ailments that creates.  Crowded teeth in a small jaw are also much harder to keep clean, and we get decay.  Cavities and gum disease are considered the most important global health burden of our time.

 

“Disease begins in the Gut”

Hippocrates had it so right!  If you are ready to rock your world and eliminate tooth decay and gum infections then here’s the big secret:  NUTRITION matters!

It’s really time to eliminate carbohydrates and sugar.  So much of our processed foods, breads, cereals, fitness bars, energy drinks, and even “gluten free” foods are stuffed full of hidden sugars.

gum disease

Gum line Tooth Decay

Instead,according to both Drs. Lin and Danenberg, think like our ancestors and eat a more Paleo diet.  And, it’s not just that the carbs break down in the mouth and feed the “sugar bugs,” as we call them.  It’s even greater than that, way greater.

Here’s what’s happening (grab a cup’a something and read on):

As we know, digestion really starts in the mouth with properly chewing and breaking down your food with good, healthy salivary flow.  The healthier your mouth, the healthier your gut, so taking care of your body really starts with your mouth.

There are good bacteria as well as bad bacteria that live in your mouth.  The Bad Guys, those sugar bugs, are fast eaters and love the sugar you ingest, whether it’s in the form of carbs or straight sugar.  To the bugs, sugar is sugar, no matter it’s form.  The “good” bacteria are slower eaters and eat the complex carbohydrates, or as we know it – fiber.  Fast eaters vs slow eaters – the more sugars, the more the fast eaters win, which is not good.  This war continues on in the stomach.

The Gut

Food travels to our gut- which includes everything from our stomach through to our large intestines.  With the aid of trillions of “good” bacteria, viruses, fungi, and whatever else lives there,  food is further broken down, nutrients extracted.  The toxins and potentially harmful  bacteria are filtered and separated out.  Much of our immune system  – upward of 80 percent – is in our gut.

These immune cells play a big role in our total body health.  They control the gut lining health, as well as sending messages to other immune cells in distant body parts.  Fiber, while non-digestible to us,  feeds the good gut bacteria.  This then allows the bacteria to produce fatty acid chains that manage the immune system.  These good bacteria use the fiber for energy and for maintaining the gut lining.  Unfortunately, our modern diet, or as we know it, the Standard American Diet, aptly nicknamed the “SAD diet” lacks any measurable amount of fiber, and thus we don’t support our gut bacteria enough and increasingly suffer from things like IBS and ulcerative colitis.  Fiber is vital to keep our gut microbiome in balance.

Fiber Time

Dietary fiber encases simple carbs and makes them harder to digest so the “bad” bacteria stay in check.  If you have bleeding gums or tooth decay, it follows that you have more of the sugars and carbs the “bad” bacteria love to eat, both in your mouth and then in your entire gut lining.  This gut lining is one cell thick.  An intact lining is vital to allow only small, select molecules to transfer through.  When bacteria are out of whack, the gut becomes “permeable,” allowing semi-digested food and bacteria to leak into the underlying tissue and into the blood vessels.  This can happen if the bacteria do not get enough fiber, causing the bacteria to go into starvation mode, and cause them to feed off of the mucus-like coating  that lines the gut.   The gut barrier becomes porous.  This is what’s called “leaky gut”.

Leaky Gut

(I admit, I’d never even heard of such a thing until I started working in a biological dental office.  But, I have lactose intolerance so am all too familiar with “digestive issues”.  A cool thing I did learn in  researching this topic – approximately 65% of the human population also have this problem of reduced ability to consume lactose after age seven,  so at least I’m not alone.   Hmm, wonder if I have leaky gut?!  Probably!  Yikes!) [The Editor actually said, “What? Is this real?” and had to take a Google break.]

The Gut (and an elegant cross stitch)

Leaky gut disrupts the communication between the gut microbiome and the immune system, which results in the immune system going into overdrive.  It goes haywire.  This miscommunication has been connected with causing allergic reactions, weight gain, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and even mental disorders, according to Drs. Lin and Danenberg.  Bleeding gums may well be the first sign things are going wrong in the gut!

 

 

The Gum Disease/Tooth Decay/Gut Connection

Per Dr. Lin, the mouth is a barometer of how well our immune system is working throughout our body.  When the immune cells are activated (via the leaking gut), they then attack healthy cells and proteins, which can lead to chronic inflammation.  This results in an autoimmune disease in the body.  The sad fact is that autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed since the end of World War II, coinciding with more and more processed foods in the American diet.

Often, the first sign of an autoimmune reaction is in the mouth.  Dental professionals may see things like lichen planus, or early signs of celiac disease, which appear as oral lesions, mouth ulcers, and malformed enamel in children.  Unfortunately, many of these signs are missed- celiac often goes undiagnosed for years!  All huge, neon signs of an immune system gut dysbiosis. (That’s my new favorite word- just learned it this year!)

Leaky gut sets the stage for an immune reaction that is visible in the mouth via bleeding gums, bone loss, and even tooth decay.  When things are out of balance, more “bad” bacteria flourish.  The mouth bacteria do feed the stomach bacteria every time you swallow.  So, you’re not off the hook- you still have to brush, and clean in-between, as well as reduce those bad bacteria in the mouth.  That’s only part of the problem.  To really solve your gum disease and tooth decay issues, we need to dig deeper and look at your gut health and your food/diet/nutrition intake.

Healing the Gut and the Mouth

As part of my new and constantly evolving oral health protocols, I will be sending my patients in to see a functional medicine doctor to analyze their gut health and heal  digestive issues.  We,  in the dental field, need to work with the medical field in order to help our patients be truly healthy, not just “cleaning” the teeth.  It’s no longer just about plaque control and which toothpaste is best.

Prevention

Sugar

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere!

Dental disease starts with our diet right from infancy.  Breast feeding is “best feeding” for so many reasons.  Baby formula’s main ingredient is sugar.  This formula happens to have corn syrup as the first ingredient and then, lo and behold, there’s more sugar as ingredient number four!  No wonder the rate of diabetes is on the rise!  I understand there are reasons/times to use formula, and people who cannot breastfeed.  If at all possible, I encourage you to explore the idea of purchasing breast milk, and at six months it can be…

Real Food Time

Then we give them baby food (pure mush- no chewing involved there) and carbohydrates.  I’m as guilty, my kids got Dino-nuggets, and mac & cheese. [Editor’s note, again– I still love mac & cheese.]  How squishy can ya get?  Shame on me, but now I know better.  (My future grandchildren will only eat real food, daughters beware!)  Energy drinks, cereal, and bagels,  none of that even looks like the food our ancestors ate.  We need to eat real food, protein, and even fats.  It’s called “Clean eating“.

Food should be as close to its natural state as possible.  Any thing processed -i.e. in a box, or package, any thing with sugar (so many foods have added sugar hidden in them.  Would you eat a candy bar for breakfast?  Have a bowl of cereal and you just might be!), grains (yes, breads are not on either Dr. Lin’s or Dr. Danenberg’s list), vegetable oils, processed dairy, and then corn and soy.  Grain- or corn-fed beef is not as nutrition filled as free range cattle meat.  For more complete diet suggestions, please read their books and their websites.  If you have any dental diseases and are serious about healing your mouth , these sources are worth your time.

THE Point

So.  What’s the point of all this?  For those that have rampant tooth decay, gum disease, gut imbalance- take a good, hard look at your food.  All of us, I’m sure, could use an improvement, but individuals with these issues need to analyze their nutrition more seriously.

Eat your Veggies

Healthy Eating is Colorful Eating~

Key takeaways from Dr. Lin’s Book:

#1. Back to Basics– Food that looks like it’s found in the environment.  The more of the plant we eat and the more of the animal we eat, the more nutrients we get.  Organ meats, full fat, lard, are excellent sources of Vitamins A, D,  and K2. [Editor’s feeling chatty today – she’s not a huge fan of this.]  Food preparation is important as well.  Fermentation helps preserve food as well as producing nutrients such as vitamins like thiamine, nicotinic acid, biotin, riboflavin, and K2.  Grains become more digestible and nutritious after fermentation.  Cheeses are on this list, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi… luckily, wine (a.k.a., fermented grapes) is on this list too…

#2. Eating for a healthy mouth starts with proper chewing.  Joints, muscles, and bones all healthy and working with the teeth to break down and chew food thoroughly.  Take smallish bites, divided evenly across the mouth, and chew on both sides at the same time until the food’s soupy.  Takes about 20 chews.  You get more nutrition from your food this way, since your stomach has to do less work.  Chewing with your mouth closed and breathing through your nose, incidentally, is vital for proper jaw development, which leads us to proper tongue rest posture.

#3. Nutrients can compliment each other- like Vitamin D3, A, and K2 all help our body to use and distribute calcium properly.

#4. That microbiome mini world is important to our overall health.  The more diverse the bacteria and good, healthy microbes, the better.  Probiotics (back to that fermentation) and prebiotics- which feed the bacteria in our gut- are so important.  Fiber is a prebiotic!  It really is time to eat way more fiber.

#5. Animals that never see sunlight, don’t graze on grass, and/or are filled with antibiotics, and plants sprayed with fertilizers are food that are not really healthy food for us to eat.  Know where and how your food is raised or as they say, sourced.

 

Dr. Danenberg’s takeaways:

This is a more intensive process.  If you need to really reset your health, start slowly to incorporate these changes to your lifestyle and be healthier.

#1. Stop eating grains, grain products and pseudo-grains.  So, just about every thing in your kitchen pantry.  Remember that grains irritate the lining of your gut (simple carbs), increase unhealthy bacteria in your gut that travel throughout your body.  Try it for 30 days, see how you feel.

#2. After 30 days, remove unhealthy oils and fats- vegetable and seed oils, trans fats, and partially hydrogenated fats.  Replace them with good oils-macadamia, avocado, or extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or ghee from grass-feed cows.

#3. Eliminate all added sweeteners.  Sugar,  and artificial sweeteners are unhealthy.  Soda,  and most drinks are on this list.  There are 61 different names for sugar so time to start reading those labels.  (Now, we all know how I feel about xylitol. So, for me, for now, it’s going to remain part of my routine. If you’re struggling with oral health, this should be a conversation with your wellness team!)

#4. Eliminate all legumes.  Yup, all those beans, peanuts, garbanzo beans, pinto beans etc…, Why?  They prevent certain minerals from being absorbed through your gut, and they contain anti-nutrients that damage the gut lining.  There is a way to soak them to make them healthier which Dr. D discusses in his book.

#5. Eliminate pasteurized and homogenized milk products.   Milk’s been altered so much that it may be damaging to your gut lining.

#6. Eliminate most processed foods.

 

Dental Health/Dental Nutrition

In order to get healthy from the inside out we need to eat whole foods, prepared properly, and know where they’re from.  Farmers markets are now on my “to do” list.

Both books have great recipes and a whole lot more information.  This is just a very brief overview to help you get an understanding of how and why the gut plays a role in oral health and wellness.  If your gums bleed, or you keep getting cavities, even though you brush, floss and do 20 minutes of oral hygiene, then yes, start with your dental office, but maybe time to include a functional medicine doc in this mix.  Still frustrated?  Then come see me in Seattle for a through examination and we’ll figure it out!  A healthy mouth means a healthy body and visa versa.  Nutrition has been ignored for too long.

 

Be well my friends!

Questions? Comments? or topics for future posts?  I loving hearing from you!

Keep Smiling,

Barbara

(and her lovely editor, Alexa)

Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

Share your thoughts below!

3 Comments

  1. Spring Colorado Orthodontist

    Wonderful information bite out of dental disease your article have powerful words which help me thank you for sharing this great information.

    Reply
  2. Barbara Tritz

    You are so welcome! Stay tuned for part II coming soon!
    ~Barbara

    Reply
  3. Jess Parker

    Great post! I agree, nutrition really does have countless effects on our bodies. I just switched to a new insurance provider through insurance line one and have been looking for more tips on preventing cavities and I think nutrition is a very important one!

    Reply

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