Originally posted 7 August 2009
Late last month, an article published in the Journal of Dental Research by P. Hujoel of the University of Washington School of Dentistry got a notable bit of media coverage. Most of it focused on the fact that – as the article noted and one headline put it – “diets bad for [the] teeth [are] bad for the body.” In a way, this is common sense, for the teeth, of course, are part of the body. And thus, as another headline put it, “tooth decay [and] bleeding gums may herald chronic ills.” The diet in question is one that is high in fermentable carbohydrates (e.g., sugars and starches).
But we want to point you to one especially interesting part of the article, in which Hujoel discusses the results of the one time acceptance of Ancel Keys’ hypothesis that dietary fat is the main contributor to chronic illness. This notion led to promotion of the high-carb diet as the healthiest diet, despite the science that showed otherwise. (See Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories for an excellent treatment of this topic.) “Because general health takes precedence over dental health when it comes to dietary recommendations,” writes Hujoel, “dental diseases became viewed as local infections.”
That is, Keys’ theory helped perpetuate the idea that what happens in/to the mouth stays in the mouth, having no effect on other organs and body systems – an idea that is patently false yet had important consequences that we are still coping with today.
Because of the dominant nature of Keys’ hypothesis in the 20th century, the dental profession may have been forced to focus on non-dietary preventive approaches for dental CNCDs [chronic non-communicable diseases]. A carbohydrate world needed to become fluoridated, teeth needed to become sealed with plastics, and dental diseases became labeled as infectious diseases to be treated with antimicrobials. Dental health became dependent, as a first line of defense, on a $25 billion market of oral hygiene devices, rinses, fluoride delivery devices, and antimicrobials (Research and Markets, 2008).
In other words, what are now standard operating procedures (and guaranteed moneymakers) in orthodox, corporate dentistry – fluoridation and sealants – might not have gained such a toe-hold had the recommended diet been one lower in fermentable carbohydrates, higher in healthy fats, proteins and fiber.
And this, of course, is what the great dental researcher Dr. Weston Price discovered in his travels around the world, documenting the diet and dentition of native peoples. Those who still ate a traditional, local diet showed few or no cavities and straight, strong teeth. Those who had accepted refined sugar and flour – staples of the “modern” Western diet – had cavities, crooked and crowded teeth and other dental problems.
The simple truth: What you eat affects your teeth…just as it does the rest of your body. Everything is connected.