In 2012, approximately 91% of U.S. adults aged 20-64 had dental caries in permanent teeth.1 The number of children needing braces has quadrupled since the 1960’s 2, and it’s now considered a rite of passage to have wisdom teeth pulled. Why are we seeing so much dental decay and overcrowding? Is this something we merely inherit from our parents? What if there’s more to the story that simply our genetics? To find some answers, let’s first take a journey in time.
TEETH: WINDOWS INTO OUR HEALTH
One of the first pioneers in the search for the cause of dental day was an American dentist, Dr. Weston Price. In the early 1930’s, he was intrigued to learn about the causes of dental decay and physical degeneration that he observed in his dental practice. He had heard about ingenious cultures and their pristine dental health, which peaked his interest enough to embark on a multi-year project, in search of how the foods we eat are connected to our dental health and how the health of our mouths are connected to the health of our bodies.
So he embarked on a quest. He traveled across the globe, from Africa to the Arctic to study isolated societies, collecting data and photos. Dr. Price found that, despite not even owning a toothbrush, people of isolated cultures that were still consuming their native diet had little to no incidence of decay. Additionally he found that they had straight teeth, wide dental arches, no overcrowding, and resistance to disease. However, when individuals from these cultures were exposed to more processed foods from more civilized cultures (referred to as “foods of commerce” by Dr. Price), incidence of tooth decay rose.
Dr. Price’s findings led him to believe that “dental caries and deformed dental arches resulting in crowded, crooked teeth and unattractive appearance were merely a sign of physical degeneration, resulting from what he had suspected-nutritional deficiencies.”3 When he analyzed the diets of these various cultures, he found that they provided 4 to 10 times the amount of nutrients than those found in the Western diet at the time. While each of these cultures had different diets, Dr. Price did find some similarities between them that he attributed to the strong teeth, jaws, and overall health.
CAN OUR DIET PREVENT TOOTH DECAY?
It’s been long understood that our diet plays a huge factor in our dental health. While limiting sugar is important for overall health as well our dental health, including certain foods to our diet help create strong and healthy teeth, decreasing our risk for cavities. Curious to learn more about how our nutrition impacts our dental health? I talk more about nutrition for healthy teeth in this guest blog post I wrote for Dallas Pediatric Dentistry. Head over to this blog post to read more — See you there!