Biting into the dental diet
Many of us grow up thinking of our teeth as inanimate hardware to be repaired by dental mechanics. Yet our teeth are very much alive, connected to every organ and gland via the bloodstream. Their direct relationship with the body means that optimal nutrition and overall health lead to healthy teeth and gums (and vice versa), while any infection that the mouth harbors negatively affects our overall well being. Despite their vulnerability to our lifestyle habits, our teeth are capable of healing and regenerating. Read on to discover that it’s all about going with the flow, even when that means swimming upstream.
Regulated by the hypothalamus, a constant microscopic flow of fluid in the teeth originates near the intestinal area and flows upward and outward through the tooth. This dentinal fluid prevents tooth decay by flushing toxins from teeth, providing nutrients for the mineral matrix, neutralizing acid on teeth, and repelling biofilm on surfaces. This fluid also forms a protective fluid layer atop enamel, not unlike sap oozing from a tree. When foods that elevate blood insulin levels, such as refined carbohydrates, cereals, and sugars, are eaten in excess, fluid flow is reversed or suppressed. Other factors that can suppress the dentinal flow are stress, low thyroid activity, lack of exercise/lymph stagnation, antibiotics, nutritional deficiencies, and fluoride.
A diet that nourishes our dental health includes foods that are rich in minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, silica, and magnesium, and high in fat-soluble vitamins A, D3, E, and K2. These minerals and fat-soluble vitamins are high in grass-fed meat and dairy and low in factory-farmed meat. One can see this difference by comparing pale conventional dairy to the rich yellow, orange, and golds of grass-fed butter or ghee, pastured egg yolks, and high-quality cheese. While vitamin K1 is found in leafy greens, vitamin K2 is found in pastured meat and dairy, and fermented foods such as natto, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and aged cheese. Vitamin K2 is vital for dental, bone, and heart health because it removes excess calcium from tissues and deposits it in bone. Vitamin A comes in two forms; beta-carotene (found in orange foods such as carrots and squash) and retinol, found in grass-fed meat and dairy as well as cod liver oil. Because almost half of us have a genetic variant which prevents effective conversion of beta-carotene to retinol, it is important to include both forms in a healthy dental diet. Fat-soluble vitamin E, an antioxidant found in sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, and dark leafy greens, promotes bone health by protecting the bone-making process from free radical damage. Vitamin D is integral for bone growth and maintenance. This “vitamin” (a misnomer as vitamin D is a steroidal hormone precursor) can be found in fish, eggs, organ meats, and fish liver oils, while safe sun bathing provides another source.
A diet high in minerals is important for both building teeth and preventing their breakdown; deficiencies in minerals signal the body to take minerals from the teeth and bones to maintain homeostasis. Grains, beans, seeds, and nuts should be soaked or fermented before eating to reduce their phytic acid content. This is because phytic acid binds with minerals and reduces absorption by the body. Bone-healthy minerals are abundant in fresh, local, and in-season fruits and vegetables. Silica can be found in leeks, green beans, chickpeas, strawberries, cucumber, celery, asparagus, and rhubarb. Magnesium can be found in wild-caught seafood, nuts and seeds, and dark leafy greens. Finally, staying well hydrated during the day encourages saliva production at night. Saliva is vital for dental health as it can remineralize teeth, control bacterial flora in the mouth, prepare food for digestion, and produce vital hormones.
Despite the importance of diet in nourishing dental health, topical oral bacteria do lead to biofilms, plaque, tartar, and calculus, which all translate to a roadblock for saliva. When saliva can’t cover teeth with a protective coating, enamel weakens, and decay begins. Therefore, proper oral care is still important; a healthy diet doesn’t mean you don’t need to brush and floss! Effective oral habits include oil pulling with coconut or sesame oil, tongue scraping, swishing with salt water, gently brushing with non-toxic toothpaste, and flossing daily.
Shannon MacLean is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a BA in International Relations and an open practice at Jade Wellness. Her Instagram is @sprucetipnutrition.