We regularly see new clients who eat a raw food diet to enhance their health. Yet when we examine their teeth, it is not uncommon to find a lot of decay. This often comes as a surprise to the client. Indeed, it seems counterintuitive when you consider that a raw food diet forgoes all processed foods and is often rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Why should these clients suffer dental problems?
Part of the cause can be dietary – such as a high sugar intake from an overabundance of fruits, especially in dried form. But part is also behavioral. In fact, there is one commonality we see amongst all raw foodists with tooth decay: a tendency to “graze,” eating small portions throughout the day. This habit – regardless of the type of diet one consumes – greatly increases the risk of developing tooth decay, especially around the gumline.
Carbohydrates tend to cling to tooth enamel more than fats and proteins do – especially around the base of the teeth, where food particles more easily can get stuck. There, they feed the oral microbes that form the biofilm often still called “plaque.” As these microbes colonize, their metabolic byproducts acidify the oral environment. Ideally saliva neutralizes it, but when biofilm covers the oral surfaces, it can’t do the job.
These acidic conditions peak for about 20 to 30 minutes, but if a person is grazing throughout the day, they’re effectively nursing the problem, ensuring that conditions remain acidic and the biofilm is allowed to proliferate. Together, these greatly increase the risk of cavity formation.
That grazing is an issue was pounded home to us a while back, when a woman brought her twin boys to us for their dental care. One of the boys had excellent teeth while the other had rampant caries (cavities). Yet both ate the same diet, which included a muffin a breakfast each morning. How each boy ate it made all the difference: the one with no caries ate his muffin all at once, while the other saved his to nibble from throughout the day.
Same diet. Different eating behaviors. Different outcomes.
Thus, if we were to recommend only one change of habit, we’d recommend sticking to regular meals rather than grazing. Accompanied by regular, thorough brushing and flossing, it can help stop decay before it starts.