Can you heal dental cavities with food?
As a holistic dentist, I am a strong believer in empowering and equipping my patients with the right tools and information to treat the root cause of their dental issues, instead of just treating the symptoms. And that is certainly the case when treating dental cavities.
Unfortunately, fillings are often the first line of defence against tooth decay, no matter how minimal the decay may be.
However, while there are some cavities that definitely require fillings – those that have eaten through to the inside of the tooth and those that are deep enough to reach the nerve and cause pain – there are also early or smaller cavities that you have the power to reverse on your own, at home. And the power to do so comes directly from the foods you eat.
How To Avoid Dental Cavities
Obviously, the best way to treat cavities is to avoid them altogether, and the good news is that the diet that helps to heal existing (small or surface) cavities also helps to prevent new ones from forming.
But before we get into the specific foods that can heal and prevent cavities, let’s look at how cavities form and the role that food plays in that process.
The Four Factors of Dental Decay
There are four main factors at play in dental decay:
The Role of Food In Tooth Decay
The foods you eat on a daily basis have a direct impact on your oral microbiome and saliva, and when you eat the wrong foods you create an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Also, the quality of your diet determines whether you are getting the necessary nutrients to support the teeth’s natural remineralisation process.
The word remineralisation refers to the process of restoring minerals to demineralised areas—typically bones, teeth, or any other parts of the body that require certain minerals for their structure.
Your teeth experience a lot of wear and tear, and their ability to continually regenerate allows you to under the right conditions keep your teeth for life.
This process requires specific vitamins and minerals and if you’re not getting them from your diet or from supplementation, you may be hindering your teeth’s ability to heal.
What to Eat to Reverse Tooth Decay
What are the specific nutrients your teeth need to reverse cavities, and what foods contain them.
Calcium has long been known to benefit dental health. In addition to providing the (re)building blocks that teeth need on a regular basis, calcium also helps you produce more saliva, putting minerals back onto your teeth that you may have lost from eating.
Most people assume that dairy products like milk and cheese are the best food sources of calcium, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many people who have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, and conventionally-raised dairy products contain hormones and antibiotics that negate any potential mineral benefit. These products should be avoided.
Seafood like salmon, oysters, clams, and shrimp are great sources of calcium, as are plant-based foods like broccoli, greens, nuts, beans, cauliflower, figs, and olives.
Often called the sunshine vitamin (it’s produced by the skin during exposure to the sun), vitamin D actually functions more like a hormone than a traditional vitamin.
It controls the body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, so even if you are supplementing with those minerals in an attempt to improve dental health, your efforts are largely wasted if you’re not also monitoring your levels of vitamin D.
A review of a group of clinical trials found that vitamin D was a “promising preventative agent against tooth cavities and decay, which leads to a low-certainty conclusion that vitamin D may reduce the incidence of dental cavities.”
Spending time in the sun is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, but vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, egg yolks, and fish like salmon and sardines.
Like vitamin D, vitamin K2 regulates the absorption of minerals in the body. In fact, these two fat-soluble vitamins work in tandem to ensure that teeth have the calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium needed for remineralisation.
Vitamin K2 can be found in fermented cod liver oil, egg yolks, chicken liver, and ground beef.
Magnesium is responsible for numerous processes in the body, including the remineralisation of teeth. Magnesium controls the balance of other nutrients in the body—including phosphorus and calcium—which, when left unchecked, can actually promote the demineralisation of teeth.
Try including these rich sources of magnesium in your diet: leafy greens, and avocado.
Adequate phosphorus levels (typically above 3.5) have been shown to protect against tooth decay but finding sources of phosphorus that actually benefit dental health can be tricky. Phosphorus is present in beans, grains, and nuts, but those foods also contain phytic acid. This is problematic because phytic acid is known to bind to the nutrients in food, making it difficult for our bodies to actually use them.
The good news is that there are plenty of phytic acid-free sources of phosphorus, including meats and eggs. And without the phytic acid, the phosphorus found in animal proteins may be easier for the body to absorb.
Foods to Avoid to Reverse Cavities
We’ve already clearly defined “remineralisation.” To build a growing understanding of healing cavities naturally, we should also clearly define the word “demineralisation.” – Loss of bodily minerals (such as calcium salts), especially in disease – The process of removing mineral matter or salts (as from water)
Tooth decay/demineralisation is caused by a deficiency of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs to build healthy teeth. But it can also be caused by eating or drinking substances that can actually deplete the teeth of necessary nutrients (like sugar and soda).
Since you now have a list of foods that you should eat in order to heal cavities naturally, I am now giving you a list of foods to avoid (or greatly limit).
We all know that sugar is bad for your teeth. It’s definitely not the only culprit, though. Here’s a look at the top foods that promote the demineralisation of teeth.
Essentially, eating these foods on a regular basis makes healing your cavities naturally nearly impossible.
Foods High in Phytic Acid
Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that inhibits the absorption of certain nutrients, including minerals that are needed for remineralisation, like calcium and magnesium. It is typically found in grains, legumes, and nuts, including:
People are often surprised to hear me say that bread and potatoes are one of the worst cavity-causing foods, but it’s true. That’s because they are a simple starch that turns to sugar almost immediately after consumption. That fuzzy feeling on your teeth after you’ve finished eating? It’s from the millions of harmful bacteria that love to feed on these types of foods, eventually multiplying and causing further tooth decay (and bad breath). Examples of simple starches include:
Sugary Foods and Drinks
Like starchy foods (that ultimately turn to sugar in the body), sugary foods and drinks provide food for the bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities.
Additionally, when these nutrient-deficient foods make up a large part of your diet, it’s also likely that you’re not consuming enough of the nutrients your body actually needs. If you’re trying to reverse your cavities, these foods should be avoided:
When grapes are converted into raisins, all of the water present in the fruit must be removed. This process concentrates all of the naturally occurring sugars, which explains why raisins taste so much sweeter than grapes. It also explains why dried fruits are horrible for your teeth. They act like a sticky caramel in the mouth, trapping sugar and sugar-loving bacteria onto the teeth.
Acidic Foods and Drinks
The acid found in the following foods wears away the enamel of teeth and intensifies decay:
Acidic foods and drinks also strip minerals from your teeth (and body), leading to demineralisation and decay.
However, it would probably be impossible to avoid every single one of these foods all the time. If you can’t resist, (I know how important that morning cup of coffee is to many people) be sure to rinse your mouth with water immediately after consumption.
The Best Diet for Remineralisation
Foods rich in vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus will help your teeth remineralise and stave off cavities, while also helping to reverse any current cavity formation through remineralisation.
When eating acidic and/or sugary foods, remember to think about it wisely. You should try rinsing your mouth after eating these types of foods whenever possible and minimise your intake.
The bottom line is this: Avoiding sugary sodas and sweets is just one way to slow down the demineralisation process.
Adopting the best diet for remineralisation also includes focusing on eating the right foods, and being aware of the potential consequences of many other foods groups.
If you would like to know more about how to adopt a holistic approach to your dental care give us a call.