Of course, saliva isn’t the only natural defense system for your teeth. Another lies within the miles of microscopic tubules that make up the tissue between the hard outer enamel and delicate inner pulp of each tooth: dentin.
Those tubules aren’t just empty chambers. Fluid flows through them – mainly cytoplasm from the odontoblasts that extend into the dentin from the pulp. Cytoplasm is the stuff that all the structures within a cell float around in. Odontoblasts are the specialized cells that form dentin.
This fluid normally flows away from the tooth, and as Dr. Ralph Steinman demonstrated long ago, this supports the health of a tooth in a few ways:
- It repels microbes and their acidic byproducts.
- It helps neutralize those acids.
- It provides nutrients to the dentin, via blood vessels in the pulp.
What Steinman also showed, however, is that this flow can be disrupted – slowed down or even reversed. When it is, the tooth becomes more vulnerable to decay. Instead of being repelled, microbes and acids may be pulled into the tooth, giving them more opportunity to do their damage.
To our patients and regular readers, it’s probably no big surprise that diet is one of the leading causes of disrupted flow – particularly, the use of refined sugar and white flour. Notably, these are also the preferred nosh of the pathogens involved in tooth decay and gum disease.
Talk about a lose-lose situation!
Other factors that have been found to interfere with normal dentinal fluid flow include physical inactivity, chronic stress, drugs and insufficient micronutrients. Of the latter, vitamins D and K, calcium and phosphorous are especially critical to dental health. Antioxidants are crucial, as well, for fighting inflammation.
You might think of all this as the proper care and feeding of teeth. Or as Dr. Ken Southward put it in a 2011 paper for General Dentistry:
The tooth is designed to withstand the harsh oral environment, provided it is properly nourished. A high-sucrose diet affects the tooth from the outside by enabling oral bacteria to produce acid and from the inside by reducing the dentinal fluid flow and the body’s ability to control the inflammatory process in the dentin…. Minimizing sucrose as well as increasing fruit and vegetable intake and nutritional supplementation are modifiable lifestyle decisions with significant measurable benefits.
Image by Lesion, via Wikimedia Commons