It may be stating the obvious but it’s worth remembering that if you want your skin, hair, nails and teeth to look their best, your body must be well nourished. The body is clever and uses a “priority of importance” logic to ensure nutrients go to the most important organs first. Whatever is left over, either scraps or surplus, goes to the less important organs. The latter are all the parts that help us look attractive — the skin, hair, nails and teeth. If they’re a little lacklustre, brittle or worse for wear, your body is probably under-nourished (which is not the same as under-fed).
“Diet in infancy plays a big part in how we end up looking as adults,” says Sydney-based dental surgeon, Tony Ancell. How our teeth sit in our jaw, our bone structure and how the whole mouth area grows and forms, he says, is dependent on a nutrient-rich diet. “If children don’t get the basic nourishment they need when growing, then the body isn’t thinking about growing the jaw or mouth when the brain is the first priority.”
Tony attributes the rise in jaw problems and dental overcrowding in children to nutritional deficiencies (plus other environmental factors causing improper nasal respiration, which leads to adaptive tongue postures to enable mouth breathing). “This results in improper stimulation of the growth centres in the face and jaws, leading to malocclusion — crowded and improperly articulated teeth.”
This is not new knowledge. In the 1930s, American dentist Dr Weston A Price, known as the Charles Darwin of nutrition, travelled the world studying isolated primitive groups who were untouched by modernisation. He found that many of the people he saw, though they didn’t brush their teeth, wore beautiful healthy smiles showing strong, healthy teeth that were straight and free of decay. These people ate traditional diets rich in seafood, vegetables, grains and organ meats and essential food factors. Children born to this traditional lifestyle had wide, handsome faces with plenty of room for the dental arches.
Dr Price also found that children born to parents who had moved away from their communities and abandoned their traditional diets in favour of a diet rich in refined and adulterated foods had narrowed faces, crowded teeth and a reduced immunity to disease. As he travelled, his findings led him to form the belief that dental caries and deformed dental arches resulting in crowded, crooked teeth were a sign of physical degeneration attributable to nutritional deficiencies.
Tony Ancell says the refined foods we eat today are foreign to our bodies. They are not foods we have evolved to eat. “Even our fresh fruits and vegetables are lacking in nutrients. They’re loaded with chemicals from pesticides and herbicides and grown in soils that are depleted of minerals and other nutrients. A modern carrot has 200 times less betacarotene than a carrot 200 years ago.”
He recommends a diet rich in organic produce — fruits, vegetables and grains that come from rich soils without any chemicals. He adds: “Many refined foods are also soft. Hard food is important, as chewing stimulates the periodontal ligaments that influence proper growth of the teeth and jaw.”
Tony stresses the importance of maternal health during pregnancy. Although bad teeth run in families, genes are more plastic than we think. Genetic expression, he says, can be altered by what a mother eats. She can improve bad family patterns with optimal nutrition and by promoting good gut health. He adds, “Babies get their bacteria pattern in the first three weeks of life from their mother and their environment. These are bugs that they’ll have for the rest of their lives. Decay runs in families because bacteria runs in families.”
Its important, he says, not to feed bad bacteria with refined, sugary foods. Instead, work on encouraging beneficial flora by feeding your family whole foods, organic fruit and vegetables and foods rich in good bacteria such as live yoghurt. “A predominance of bad bacteria in the mouth has been implicated in various health problems, including heart disease and blood clots,” says Tony.
There is a domino effect from a poorly formed mouth, snowballing to a whole host of health problems, including those related to spinal health, posture and breathing. However, although these patterns are set up in childhood, they can be corrected through a holistic treatment program looking at nutrition, orthodontics, orthopaedics and improving breathing habits and pathways.
Fluoride or no fluoride?
There has long been an ongoing debate about whether fluoride really is good for teeth and, more importantly, the body as a whole. Fluorine, touted as the tooth mineral is actually toxic in large amounts and usually exists in nature as calcium fluoride. When water is artificially fluoridated, sodium fluoride is added. In the artificial form, the fluoride is much more easily separated from sodium than from the more common natural partner calcium, so your blood levels can rise more dramatically.
Fluoride is found in foods such as goat’s milk, seaweed, rye, rice, parsley, avocado, cabbage, black-eyed peas, juniper berries, licorice, lemongrass, bancha tea twigs and other tea plants, has important nutritional functions. Sodium fluoride is a cheap and toxic byproduct of the aluminium industry. Research has shown that sodium fluoride inhibits proper function of the thyroid gland and can damage the immune system. At certain levels it has been shown to reduce bone density and increase dental cavities.
There are now mandatory warning signs on toothpaste labels in the US cautioning: “If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately”. Many cities in Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland no longer fluoridate their water supplies.
Tony says that, although there is evidence to suggest that too much sodium fluoride is a problem to human health, topical fluoride has shown to be beneficial. “Since people have used it in toothpaste, decay rates have gone down.” Perhaps it’s a case of use a little in your toothpaste but filter it out of your water. And the question has to be asked. If we ate a diet rich in whole foods, would we need fluoride in our water at all?
The mouth is connected to the body
The mucus membranes inside the mouth are among the most direct routes to the blood, brain and other cells of the body as the mucosal lining inside the mouth has about a 90 per cent absorption efficiency. Toothpaste ingredients other than fluoride that shouldn’t be ingested in large amounts include sodium lauryl sulfate (a foaming agent and potential carcinogen) and triclosan (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and classified by the EPA as a dangerous ingredient).
According to Tony, amalgam fillings, known to leach mercury into the body, should also be avoided and even removed for some people. “Amalgam was a material that can be justified historically as it saved many teeth at a cost-effective price. It cannot be justified these days as there are so many good alternatives.” Like many dentists, Tony stopped using amalgam over 20 years ago but has not been fanatical about removing all the amalgam he sees in clients’ teeth.
“A good practitioner considers the health needs of the whole person,” he says. “There have been many many people who have lived to a ripe old age with large amounts of dental amalgam in their teeth. But for some very compromised people, one amalgam filling can have negative health effects.”
Food for your teeth
The combination of organic calcium and fluoride creates a hard surface on teeth and also in the bones. Foods rich in calcium are nuts, sesame seeds, salmon, tofu, spinach, broccoli, peas, almonds, rhubarb, sardines, baked beans, sea vegetables, wheat grass, amaranth grain and parsley. Chlorophyll helps to halt tooth decay and gum infection when used as a tooth powder or mouth rinse. It also helps to counteract inflammations such as gingivitis. Most green plants are valuable sources of chlorophyll, phosphorus and vitamins A and C — all important co-factors for calcium absorption.
The other nutrient necessary for proper calcium metabolism is vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”. Fortunately, chlorophyll foods act as a form of stored sunshine, performing like vitamin D in the body to regulate calcium. Vitamin D can be found in butter, eggs, liver, organ meats, marine oils and seafood, particularly crab and shrimp. Magnesium is also an important co-factor.
A diet rich in silica and vitamin C is important for gum and tooth health. Studies show that vitamin C can help reduce plaque build-up.
Using the logic of like heals like, boil up bones from organically raised animals and make into a soup. Add a few acidic vegetables to help extract the marrow and various minerals. This is excellent for strengthening the building blocks of the body.
Good bugs for teeth
Dilute one teaspoon of probiotic powder in water and swish it around in your mouth to help prevent plaque build-up. The good bugs in the probiotic prevent other harmful mouth bacteria from sticking to and attacking the teeth. Eat lots of live organic yoghurt and lacto-fermented vegetables full of beneficial bacteria.
Stress, saliva and mouth health
The protective fluid around the teeth is under the regulation of the automatic nervous system. Stress can impede the flow of this fluid, as can sugar and refined foods. Decay is a systemic disease rather than a topical one, so what you put on your teeth is not as important as what goes into your body and how much stress you are under.
Tony Ancell stresses the importance of saliva for gum and teeth health. It has great immunological properties and is anti-bacterial. But, he says, breathing through the mouth dries the saliva off your teeth and increases your chances of tooth decay and gum disease. If possible, always breathe through your nose.
Foods to avoid
People with tooth decay should avoid vegetables high in oxalic acid or solanine (nightshades such as potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant) as these inhibit calcium metabolism. Other calcium inhibitors are refined sugar and sweet foods, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. It’s also important to pre-soak grains and legumes before cooking to neutralise their phytic acid content, which binds to calcium.
Don’t forget to clean
According to Tony, cleaning the teeth is simply a matter of removing plaque from the surface. The ways to do this, he says, are by rubbing it off with a toothbrush, using interdental cleaning aids such as floss and attending for regular preventive maintenance at your dentist. “Professional cleaning (if done properly) has been proven to save teeth and their supporting structures.”
Certain ingredients, such as bicarbonate of soda can be of assistance. Baking soda’s highly alkaline properties neutralise plaque acids and eliminate bacteria that cause tooth decay. To strengthen and whiten teeth and gums and help remove tartar, cut a strawberry in half and rub it on the gums and teeth. Sage leaves also work well.
Flossing teeth is essential for the health of the gums, says Tony. “When gums are inflamed, it’s because debris and acid from the bacteria are stuck in the plaque layer. If you remove it carefully every day, you will stave off gum disease.”
Brightening Spearmint & Tea-tree Tooth Powder
¼ cup bicarb soda
¼ cup white clay
1 tbsp very fine sea salt
4 drops spearmint essential oil
2 drops tea-tree essential oil
1 tsp stevia (a natural sweetener — studies show it may help prevent decay)
Mix together the soda and clay. Add the drops of essential oils and mix through thoroughly. Sieve to remove any wet lumps. To use: mix a little powder with water. Dip your toothbrush in. Do not swallow. Spit out and rinse. Do not exceed these amounts of essential oils.