When I was growing up, I believed cavities were caused by eating too much sugar and not brushing my teeth often enough or well enough. While that is true, it is no longer the whole truth.
What we eat not only affects our overall health, it can affect if our children’s’ teeth get crooked, in addition to affecting the bacteria in our gut and mouth, which in turn affects our risk for gum disease and dental decay.
This is well presented in a book I have on the “reading shelf” in the waiting room of our Sheboygan dental office titled The Dental Diet by Dr. Steven Lin.
Here is a recent article by Dr. Lin:
Now more than ever, we’re faced with an alarming rate of dental disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The not-so-surprising link? The modern diet. Dental disease like cavities, crooked teeth, and wisdom teeth problems have been around only since the Industrial Revolution, when manufactured food made huge changes to our diet. Since then, our health has declined.
In many ways, so much of today’s food isn’t even really food. Decades ago, food was fresh and healthy. Today, the majority of the foods served—whether at home, in school, or in restaurants—are highly processed and filled with sugars, harmful fats, and chemical additives. They may be cheap for your pocketbook, but these foods can cost you when it comes to your long-term health.
The Industrial Revolution was the shifting point: Food no longer needed to be carefully found, grown, and nurtured. Instead, it became readily available at a low cost. It was packaged, mass-manufactured, and lacking many of the nutrients our bodies need to flourish. As a result, we’ve become less cognizant of how food existed in nature and how our bodies are meant to process it. At the same time, obesity rates have skyrocketed, and hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, dementia, and depression have become our norm.
The effects have also been quite noticeable in our mouths, which function as a gatekeeper to the health of the body. Like our guts, the microbiome of the mouth did not develop to handle the diets we consume today. As I highlight in The Dental Diet, a book designed to help you look at dental health holistically, the resulting imbalance leads to bad breath, crooked teeth, jaw problems, and subsequent problems throughout the body.
Think of your jaw as a musculoskeletal joint, just like any other in your body. Just as you go to the gym to work out and grow strong, your jaw needs the same type of physical workouts. Processed, refined food has taken the chewing factor away from food. Physical feedback is like a nutrient that helps grow the jawbones that house your teeth. When they don’t develop, teeth are forced to grow in crooked. And that’s not all. To grow wide jaws and straight teeth, your bones need specific nutrients. Modern foods strip the nutrients out of our diet that balance calcium. The fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins D, A, and K2, come from a very specific, whole-fat set of foods that you won’t find on the average supermarket shelf.
In place of the above, our diets are now composed of more sugar, flour, and vegetable oils, which imbalance your gut and make us prone to allergies that prevent nasal breathing, a key factor in growing a wide upper jaw. You can start to see why so many people need braces today.
Meet the foods that are making you, and your mouth, sick.
It’s hard to know exactly what people ate before the agricultural revolution, roughly 10,000 years ago when we were still hunters and gatherers. But it’s estimated that around 72 percent of the foods we eat now are different from the foods people ate back then. These “modern” foods include:
In order to avoid these foods, or at least eat them only in moderation, we need to understand how they make their way to our plate in the first place, why they’re bad for our health, and what people used to eat instead.
To combat the effects of our modern diet, it’s integral that we contextualize the food that sits on our plates today, so we can make choices that bring out diet closer to those traditional, healthier meals. I’m not saying you need to eat like the cavemen once did—that would be close to impossible—but you need to understand the principles behind the foods our ancestors ate, because their nutritional habits were designed to work for our bodies, not against them.
Eating whole plants and animal fats, as our ancestors did, exposes your body to all-important vitamins, like A, D, and K2, which allow us to build and maintain strong skeletal bones and teeth—leading to everything from good sleep hygiene to good oral health. It’s also important to get into the habit of distinguishing natural food from harmful simulations of it. You might choose a green apple or a handful of blackberries instead of a cookie packed with added, unnatural sugars, or maybe you’ll opt for a salad packed with whole foods and protein instead of a frozen pizza laden with harmful chemicals.
When you get into the habit of looking at food through this new lens, it will be hard to justify eating something that you know your body won’t recognize. Your diet—or rather, lifestyle—will realign to the foods you’re meant to eat, and your mouth and body will thank you for it.