Teeth decay because we eat too much sugar. Right? While this is true, it only partly explains what is going on in the body. If the cause of tooth decay were so simple we could prevent tooth decay by not eating sugar. Yet we know that it is not as easy as this.
There are many exceptions to the rule that sugar causes tooth decay, for example, we see tooth decay in individuals who do not consume a lot of sugar and little or no tooth decay in those who do.
Maybe then there is more going on with tooth decay than meets the eye?
Studies have shown that whether teeth decay or not depends on the balance of minerals in the blood and that tooth decay occurs more readily when there are low blood phosphorous levels.
Phosphorous levels are lower when calcium, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides are too high.
With this in mind, I would like to focus on the role of diet and nutrition in tooth decay.
To help you understand this better in this series of blogs will explain what to eat and what not to eat to prevent tooth decay and have optimal oral health. How to make sure you are getting enough minerals and fat-soluble vitamins in your diet and which foods to eat to provide you with what you need to prevent tooth decay. I will also explore what sugar does to our oral health, in a way that is not commonly explained.
The Role of Diet in Tooth Decay
Dr Ralph Steinman did extensive research to determine the cause of tooth decay in the 1970s (published in a book titled Dentinal Fluid Transport). He discovered that our teeth are alive and have a flow of fluid through them called dentinal fluid flow that is part of the blood circulation of our teeth.
(Dentine is the layer of tissue in our teeth between the hard outer enamel surface and the soft tooth pulp).
Steinman discovered that when the dentinal fluid flow is flowing from inside the tooth out, the teeth are very resistant to decay. However, when the fluid flow reverses and flows from the surface of the tooth to the inner portion of the tooth, decay sets in very quickly.
Our understanding is that teeth decay because bacteria in our mouth feed on sugar and that these bacteria decay our teeth.
However, when the dentinal fluid flows healthy from inside the tooth out the flow helps prevent bacteria from decaying the teeth by literally washing them out. The bacteria would need to ‘swim’ against the flow to get into the teeth. However, when the dentinal fluid flow reverses the bacteria can pass readily right into our teeth.
Steinman discovered that dentinal fluid flow is controlled by the parotid gland, which is part of our salivary system, and that the parotid gland is controlled by a part of our brain called the hypothalamus.
You may at this point be wondering what all this has to do with blood phosphorous as mentioned at the start, well what Dr Steinman found was that when he induced a low blood phosphorus level, the whole dentinal fluid system went into reverse and decay quickly followed. He also proved that when the blood phosphorous was maintained high, dentinal fluid flowed in the healthy direction and he found very little and sometimes zero decay.
What determines whether our teeth are resistant to decay or prone to decay is the balance of the mineral phosphorous in our blood!
Now, before we go rushing off to buy some phosphorous supplements thinking that all we need to do is supplement phosphorous to prevent tooth decay it’s not quite that simple.
The specific measurement of phosphorous in the blood isn’t really important, but for those of you who would like to know, the magic number Dr Steinman found was 3.5 mg/dl blood.
So, if blood phos is > 3.5, dentinal fluid flows healthy. If it’s < 3.5, fluid flow reverses and promotes decay.
Blood phosphorous balance causes changes in the body which results in how our dentinal fluid flows which causes our teeth to be resistant to or prone to decay.
Yes, bacteria and sugar are part of the issue of decay, however, bad bugs are only part of the problem and diet plays a role in whether we experience resistance to decay or a tendency to easily decay.
Phosphorus balance is impacted by several other factors namely levels of calcium, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. If any of these factors go up, phosphorous goes down. It’s like a finely balanced see-saw and this is why it is not as simple as rushing out to get phosphorous supplements.
In the next blogs, I will guide you through what foods to eat to prevent tooth decay and to promote a balance of phosphorous and will go into more detail of how diet plays a role in oral health and preventing tooth decay.