In the 1930s, the great dental researcher Weston A. Price traveled the world, investigating the effects of diet on human dentition. From the Swiss Alps to the Peruvian Andes, from Africa to the South Seas, he found one commonality among all people he met: those who ate traditional diets made up of indigenous foods had healthy gums and nearly perfect teeth. Comparatively, those who ate highly processed, non-local foods – diets including refined flour and sugar – were much more likely to have crooked teeth, malocclusion (improper jaw alignment), caries (cavities) and gum disease. He published his findings as Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939.
Sadly, all too few dentists have recognized the importance of Price’s work. They can’t state the obvious: what you eat affects not just your overall health but your dental health.
For instance, refined carbohydrates and starches contribute greatly to biofilm (plaque) build-up, tooth decay and periodontal disease. When broken down by enzymes in your saliva, these fermentable carbohydrates make a desirable meal for the microbes that live in your mouth. The environment grows acidic while the microbes thrive and colonize, intensifying acidity. If the biofilm they form isn’t regularly disturbed by brushing, flossing and other cleaning techniques, decay and gum disease are sure to follow.
If, on the other hand, you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and other whole foods, you make the terrain less friendly to those microbes. Indeed, shifting to a less acidifying, more alkalinizing diet can go a long way toward enhancing your health.
Broadly speaking, all foods can be classified as either acidifying or alkalinizing. One of the reasons why the Standard American Diet (SAD) is so notoriously unhealthy is precisely because it makes the body so acidic. Meats, grains, dairy, caffeine and sugar are the main culprits. Alkalinizing foods are needed to balance things out. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables (except tomato), their juices and oils
- Nuts and seeds (except peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, heazel, pine and soy nuts), their oils and butters
- Herb and green teas
- Mineral water
- Sea salt, major herbs and spices
Generally speaking, riper, fresher and less cooked produce is more alkalinizing, and organic is more so than industrial produce. Similarly, whole grains are less acidifying than refined grains, and whiter meats are less acidifying than darker ones.
You’ll note that this list contains few processed foods. This is because whole foods – foods as they occur in nature – are the foundation of a healthy diet. They may be processed into other foods of varying quality – everything from healthy, hearty whole grain breads to nutritionally empty Twinkies. While these days it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to follow a completely traditional, indigenous diet such as Dr. Price found ideal, we can benefit greatly by at least avoiding use of the most heavily processed foods. Hence, the oft-cited rule of thumb, of shopping the perimeter of the grocery store: produce, meats, dairy, bakery. When you venture into the center aisles for the more heavily processed foods, be sure to read the labels carefully – especially the ingredients. The fewer, the better.
Eating a wide variety of whole foods, with emphasis on alkalinizing foods, can help ensure that you’ll get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that support strong teeth and healthy gums. While we need enough of all nutrients in oder to stay healthy, some are especially important to good dental health.
All are vital, but especially vitamins C and E. As anti-inflammatory agents, they support healthy gum tissue. They also make the terrain less acidic, slowing the growth of biofilm. Eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits can help ensure you get enough of these nutrients. Nuts and whole grains are great sources of E, while citrus and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, kale) are excellent sources of C.
Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron and Trace Minerals
Minerals support bone growth and maintenance. Good sources include meat, fish and dairy products, along with green leafy vegetables.
D plays a role in maintaining strong teeth and gums. Luckily, our bodies can produce this vitamin with the help of sunlight. All it takes is ten to twenty minutes of exposure three times a week. Also, dairy products are often fortified with D.
Our body tissues are constantly breaking down, including the tissues in your mouth. Protein is needed to rebuild and maintain them. Good sources include meat, fish, dairy products, beans and nuts.
Along with taking regular exercise and making time for rest and rejuvenation, eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet is hands-down your best bet for supporting and enhancing your wellbeing. For as Hippocrates said well over 2300 years ago, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”