It’s an unfortunate reality that most people in western culture still consider oatmeal a healthy way to start the day.
In part 1 of this 3-part article series, we discussed the role that diet plays in tooth decay. In part 2, we explored foods that we should eat to help support greater oral health.
In this third and final article of the series, we are going to dive into what foods undermine our ability to navigate to greater oral health.
More importantly, by the end of today’s discussion, you’ll understand WHY these foods directly undermine our ability to create positive changes in our oral health.
If you haven’t already, we really encourage you to consider reading the first two articles in the series before continuing with this one, as the material in each one really does build upon one another.
Understanding the real cause of tooth decay…
We have found that it’s one thing if someone has a list of foods to eat and not to eat.
But when we really understand why a food causes problems, we’re empowered to take ownership of that information and apply it in our lives to create positive change.
To begin today’s discussion, we’ll focus on two important factors.
Factor 1: Vitamin D
To start, let’s learn from the work of Drs. Edward and May Mellanby.
The Mellanbys were doctors in the UK in the 1930s and 40s.
Dr. Mellanby is credited with the discovery of vitamin D, which is an important component to health (as you know from our article, “What foods support our oral health?“).
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the development and repair of healthy bone tissue, including teeth.
Factor 2: Phytic Acid
In our article that details the primary cause of tooth decay, we discussed the role of blood phosphorus in maintaining a healthy dentinal fluid flow through the teeth.
This is really crucial in today’s discussion of what not to eat because the foods we’ll cover today directly disrupt the balance of phosphorus in the blood.
The Mellanbys discovered vitamin D and made the connection between vitamin D deficiency and the disruption of the body in maintaining healthy bone tissue.
They were also very interested in the role of phytic acid found in foods.
Here’s a quote from Dr. Mellanby’s book to explain what phytic acid is:
“Phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially the bran portion of grains and seeds. It contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule. In humans and animals with one stomach, the phosphorus is not readily bioavailable. In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the ‘arms’ of phytic acid bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well. In this form, the compound is referred to as a phytate.”
So, what foods are high in phytic acid?
We really want to watch the amount of grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes that we consume. These foods contain high levels of phytic acid, so eating a diet that’s heavy in them will directly undermine our efforts to create greater oral health.
Eating lots of grains will function as an ‘anti-nutrient’ in the body, lowering our blood phosphorus levels AND blocking our body’s ability to absorb the other necessary minerals from our diet.
To test their theory, the Mellanbys conducted a study with children who had existing cavities.
They wanted to see if they could reverse the existing decay by applying the information they had gathered about vitamin D and phytic acid content in foods.
So they organized 62 children (up to age 6) into 3 groups and ran the study over the course of 6 months.
In group 1: They had the children eat a regular diet, plus oatmeal (which is high in phytic acid).
In group 2: The children ate a regular diet, plus they supplemented with vitamin D.
And group 3: The children ate a diet that was very low in phytic acid-containing foods, plus they supplemented with vitamin D. Interestingly, in our opinion, this third group didn’t eat a perfect diet.
Here’s a quote from Dr. Mellanby regarding the diet of this third group of children:
“Although [the group 3 diet] contained no bread, porridge or other cereals, it included a moderate amount of carbohydrates, for plenty of milk, jam, sugar, potatoes and vegetables were eaten by this group of children.”
They tested the children before and after the 6-month period, checking for existing cavities that got worse, new cavities that had formed, and existing cavities that had hardened (showing signs of healing the cavity).
The results speak for themselves.
Group 1: The children who ate a regular diet, who ‘enriched’ their diets with more phytic acid by eating oatmeal, and who did not supplement with vitamin D had 20 new cavities for every 1 cavity that was hardening! 🙁 (So much for thinking that oatmeal is a good breakfast option! )
Group 2: For the children who ate a regular diet with no added phytic acid and who supplemented with vitamin D, for every 1 new cavity, they had 4 existing cavities that were hardening!
Group 3: The kids who ate a low phytic acid diet and supplemented with vitamin D saw the highest improvement. For every 1 new cavity, they had 15 existing cavities that were healing.
In other words, all of the kids had existing cavities at the beginning.
In 6 months, the children who ate a less-than-ideal diet (group 1) had more cavities than they’d started out with. On the other hand, the kids who took vitamin D and ate a diet that was low in phytic acid (group 3) had fewer cavities than they’d started out with!
This is actually really good news because it indicates that we can make great strides in navigating to greater oral (and whole-system) health just by having our vitamin D levels tested and bringing them to an optimal level!
If we simply add plenty of quality butter to a decent diet and supplement with vitamin D, we definitely provide our bodies with more of the nutrition that’s necessary to create positive change in our oral health!
The sugar experiment…
So, with this piece of the puzzle in place, let’s turn our attention to the other damaging food that our culture consumes in staggering amounts.
Yeah, you already know it: sugar.
We could write a series of articles on the damaging effects of consuming sugar and perhaps one day we will.
Let’s focus on how eating sugar impacts our oral health.
To do this, we’ll go back to the work of Dr. Ralph Steinman and his incredible work with dentinal fluid flow.
In a series of tests that Dr. Steinman conducted, he wanted to determine if sugar caused decay because it ferments in the mouth, resulting in acids which eat enamel, or if there was some other mechanism involved.
Incidentally, these days, that’s pretty much the sole conventional thinking on what causes decay: sugars from foods sit on the teeth and ferment, which causes a proliferation of thug bugs, which cause decay.
Although this theory does play a part in the decay process (which is why it’s still wise to brush your teeth), Dr. Steinman proved that other factors are also involved with decay.
Here’s what he did…
He fed a group of rats a sugar-rich diet directly into their stomachs, intentionally bypassing their mouths.
The result? They developed decay at the same rate as rats who were fed the same sugar-rich diet through their mouths.
How is that possible?
Dr. Steinman found that sugar directly suppresses blood phosphorus levels.
Do you remember the blood chemistry teeter totter with phosphorus on one side and calcium, glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride on the other? Well, if glucose (that’s sugar) goes up in the blood, that’s going to directly drive down phosphorus in the blood.
Consistent low blood phosphorus levels result in a reversal of the dentinal fluid flow, which promotes tooth decay!
So, now that we know this information, how can we use it to our advantage?
Let’s pick out some gems that you can apply in your life today:
- If you are going to eat something sweet, eat it with quality healthy fats like coconut oil or our favorite, pastured butter, to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. By slowing the absorption of sugar into the system, the impact on phosphorus in the blood is less dramatic.
- The absolute worst way to eat sweet foods is how so many people do every day: grazing on small amounts of sweet foods throughout the day, particularly between meals. For example, sipping sodas, sweetened coffee or tea drinks–anything that is sugary that you essentially drip into your system day in and day out. In this way, the body’s blood sugar is constantly higher than the ideal level, and therefore the blood phosphorus level is never above that critical threshold to allow for a healthy flow of fluid through the teeth.
Curbing your sugar demon…
What I find very helpful when I feel the need to wrestle my own sugar demon into submission is to strictly limit any consumption of sweet foods to one day per week.
In this way, your body has 6 days to function in a healthier way, giving it the opportunity to stay on top of any oral health issues that it’s currently dealing with.
An added benefit to this ‘1 day of sweet foods’ strategy is that it gives our taste buds the chance to recalibrate to what sweet tastes like, so we don’t crave it as much.
One time many years ago, our family chose to ‘push the reset button’ on our sugar consumption, so we completely eliminated all sugars from our diets for 3 weeks (all fruits too). When we completed this sugar fast, eating a whole apple was just too much sweet for one sitting! When you can’t finish an apple for a snack, that’s when you know your taste buds have ‘recalibrated’ to a lower, healthier sugar threshold.
Thankfully, if you want to change, there are plenty of resources on how to go about doing it. Here’s a link to a resource page which will give you lots of blog sites, books and videos to watch to continue your education on these subjects.
By all means, if you have any questions or comments, please post them below, as we love to hear how you benefit from the information we share.
To gain a complete understanding how to stop tooth decay and reverse cavities, feel free to download our FREE resource guide, “How to Remineralize Your Teeth”.
To learn how to combine your oral health care routine with your diet to take a whole-body approach to oral health, feel free to sign up for our 5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth video series.
Until next time, thank you and Aloha!
Helpful, Related Resources:
How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth [Free e-book]
5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth [Free video tutorial course]
What TO eat to support greater oral health [article]
What Causes Tooth Decay? (AND How Can We Stop it?) [article]
Dentinal Fluid Transport by Ralph Steinman [amazon link]
How to Brush Your Teeth to Stop Tooth Decay
Helpful resources to find a qualified dentist to assist you [article]