Rethinking Tooth Decay
The Surprising Connection Between Nutrition and Cavities
Date: September 22, 2013 by Dr. Paul Wilke, DDS
The cause of tooth decay has baffled scientists for centuries. At first decay was blamed on “tooth worms.” Then it was thought to be the hardness of the enamel. More recently the “acid attack theory” blamed acid from acidic drinks or from bacterial plaque feasting on sugary foods and drinks as the cause. This is the most widely accepted concept taught in dental schools. Another theory, backed by almost four decades of research, seems more accurate.
Nutrition Linked to Cavities
Dr. Ralph Steinman of Loma Linda University first began to publish his research in 1958, showing that tooth decay is a systemic health problem. He was later joined by endocrinologist Dr. John Leonora. Their research showed that there is a hormone and autonomic nervous system-controlled fluid flow from inside each tooth through the dentin and enamel to the tooth’s surface. The fluid cleanses the outside of the tooth and acts as a defense mechanism against harmful outward influences such as bacteria or acids.
The important dentinal fluid transport system is stagnated or reversed by a number of factors, one of which is sugar intake. The interesting thing about this research, however, is it did not matter whether the sugar was taken orally or injected into the test animal’s abdomen – the results were the same. This shows that sugars on the tooth surface are not necessary for decay. Eating something sweet and then rinsing the mouth or brushing the teeth doesn’t really stop the decay process.
Stress can also disrupt this flow, as can a lack of exercise and a lack of micronutrients. These micronutrients are copper, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, chromium, calcium and phosphate, which when present in a balanced diet help to reduce decay. Finally, certain pharmacological agents that increase sympathetic nerve activity such as bradykinin also increase decay. I have also seen many prescription drugs be the cause of decreased saliva flow, which seems to increase decay rates.
Steinman and Leonora found when a nutritious meal is consumed, a hormone is released from the parotid gland that stimulates the dentinal fluid flow. This hormone release is controlled by the hypothalamus gland. When they isolated and then administered this hormone to rats on a sugary diet, the rats experienced almost no decay.
I know how hard it can be to break the sugar habit. How I wish ice cream and candy bars were health food! Many have success taking the herb gymnema, which takes away the taste and pleasure of sweets. If gymnema is taken for two months, the sweet addiction is broken.
Another line of research on the prevention of tooth decay was discovered by Weston A Price when he examined native peoples in various areas around the globe. He found that when people ate a native, mostly raw diet that contained good quality fats, especially butter made from the milk of cows that were eating rapidly growing green grass, they had little to no decay. He named this factor X. Vitamins A, D and K2 from cod liver oil were also important.
Other great ways to reduce tooth decay include supplementing minerals from kelp (Min Tran from Standard Process is a good one), adding exercise to deal with stress and burn excess blood sugar, eating foods high in nutrition, and consuming sugars with meals instead of between meals.
Curiously, Xylitol is a natural sugar that actually reduces tooth decay. One thing it does is neutralize mouth acids. Some research seems to indicate that it can kill acid-forming bacteria in the mouth. You can find Xylitol in toothpastes, mints and chewing gum. Some research shows a minimum amount of about 6 to 10 grams needs to be consumed, and frequency is important.
If a tooth cavity does form, it is important to treat it early. If the only issue is some demineralized enamel, that can be re-mineralized by taking the steps mentioned above. If the tooth structure is cavitated, it must be filled; the body cannot regrow missing tooth structure. Frequent visits to your dentist are important to catch any decay before it becomes so large that it causes irreversible pulp damage.
Dr. Paul G Wilke, DDS, owns Total Mouth Fitness, a practice that has served the San Antonio community for more than a quarter century. Dr. Wilke is certified in biological dentistry through The International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine. For more information about Dr. Wilke and his practice, visit www.TotalMouthFitness.com or call 210-495-5588. Total Mouth Fitness is located at 14310 Northbrook Dr., Independence Plaza III, Suite 150, in San Antonio.