This question probably sounds ridiculous…
We’ve been told from childhood how important it is, even having a stranger drill and prod our teeth every 6 months.
It may surprise you, but our ancestors had none of this and still didn’t suffer from this chronic disease know as caries. So what’s changed?
These modern diseases, which were never present in our Paleolithic ancestors is the result of environmental mismatch. We’re living in an environment made by man, so different to the one our bodies were designed to function in. Natural selection couldn’t keep up with our innovation and these diseases that would have killed us, are now being treated.
But the underlying issue is still there, we’re trying to function in a toxic environment and our bodies are suffering. The most obvious symptom of all this is caries, which only came about after the agricultural revolution (1). Our mouths evolved chewing meat and fibrous vegetables, with sugary fruit being a rare treat. Now, the opposite is true, our mouth is dealing with sugar on a constant basis from processed foods and carbs.
Bad Bacterial Growth
Great, no teeth decay on Paleo!
Unfortunately not, it wasn’t just diet and lifestyle that caused this issue but instead changed the types of bacteria in our mouth. These new foods act as an invasive species, feeding the harmful tooth decaying bacteria while starving the beneficial ones.
In fact, dental products proudly boasting that they kill “99.9% of bacteria” are doing more harm than good. Our mouths need a diverse range of bacteria for a healthy ecosystem with even the “bad” bacteria playing a role. The issue comes, when bad bacteria utilize this new influx of carbohydrates and begin to dominate the good bacteria.
This bad bacteria, in particular, is called Streptococcus mutans and forms the majority of plaque. With the help of processed foods, we made the environment perfect for this bacteria to thrive and kill off the good strains. In other words, the carb dependant western diet gave bad bacteria all the sugary food it needed while the other strains starved; throwing the ratio of good to bad bacteria out of whack.
Fixing your Flora
Starting Paleo is only half the battle and we now need to fix the years of damage done to our oral biome. Luckily, probiotics designed to target and replenish these good bacteria exist and can be picked up from Amazon here (UK). The new bacteria, especially on Paleo, work by competing and excluding the bad bacteria, reducing tooth decay and bad breath.
It’s recommended to use mouthwash before you begin taking these probiotics to allow for a clean slate. Killing the current bacteria will help the probiotic thrive and speed up the process.
I’ve just begun taking these oral probiotics myself and will provide an update on my experience.
Why we Brush
The sad truth is, despite being Paleo, we’re still going to have to brush our teeth. The film we get in the morning is the same bad bacteria mentioned above and is known as plaque. Brushing helps remove plaque which would go on to cause cavities and gum disease.
Should you Brush Before or After Breakfast?
When eating, the bacteria in plaque use the sugars from our food to produce harmful acids that damage our enamel. To avoid this, it’s recommended to brush before breakfast, removing the plaque that would create acids.
Furthermore, when sleeping we produce less saliva which allows plaque to form much quicker than when awake. Meaning we’ll still have plenty of plaque in the morning despite brushing before bed.
The cunning amongst us may think they can avoid this plaque acid by brushing straight after breakfast. The opposite is true I’m afraid, after eating, your mouth acidity rises and weakens your enamel.
Brushing straight away, while your teeth are in this weakened state damages your enamel even further. The bristles of the brush wear away the exposed enamel allowing the acid to penetrate deeper into your teeth.
What is Tartar Buildup?
Even brushing before breakfast can’t guarantee you won’t run into this guy from time to time. Formed by the hardening of plaque, tartar lives below and above the gum line, causing receding gums and gum disease.
Why Tartar is Bad
Just having tartar buildup makes brushing harder, less effective at removing plaque and encourages further build up. This tartar can irritate and damage your gums, leading to progressive gum disease.
The mildest form of gum disease you can get is gingivitis and can luckily be reversed through brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentists. If it progresses past this point, pockets begin forming between your gums and teeth that regularly get infected by bacteria.
This more extreme case of gum disease is called periodontitis and has your immune system fighting these pockets of bacteria. The resulting cocktail of bacteria and immune response damages the tissue and bone holding your teeth in place. In addition, studies have linked the bacteria in gum disease to:
Preventing Tartar Buildup
The best way to prevent tartar buildup is by removing the plaque that forms tartar. Here’s how:
- Brush twice a day for 2 minutes each time, less than that and you won’t remove the plaque or prevent tartar. Using a soft brush is recommended as harder bristles can be abrasive to your teeth. Don’t forget to hit the backs of your teeth too, especially on your rear molars.
- Electric toothbrushes have been shown to remove plaque 7% and gingivitis 17% more effectively than manual toothbrushes. If you were sticking to a tradition toothbrush like me, you’ll want to make the transition to an electric one (4).
- Plaque feeds off of sugar and carb-heavy foods. When eating these be sure to drink water to lower PH levels and leave 30 minutes before brushing.
- If you haven’t kicked the smoking habit yet, this could be the straw that breaks your camel’s back. Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products have been shown to increase tartar buildup (5).
The Dangers of Commercial Toothpaste
Though you shouldn’t stop brushing your teeth, especially when our microbiome is a lot more toxic than our ancestors; there are still important considerations, namely toothpaste.
All major toothpaste brands harbor dangerous chemicals that cause debilitating, long-term problems. Even the warning labels on the back should be cause for concern, with labels stating: “If accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
Below is a list of questionable ingredients used in toothpaste:
- Triclosan: a pesticide and hormone disruptor.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): causes canker sores for many people.
- Artificial colorings: Linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.
- Fluoride: Toxic if swallowed.
- Titanium dioxide: Used to whiten toothpaste, potentially hazardous.
- Glycerin: Soap used as a foaming agent, removes the mouths natural mucous membrane and prevents remineralization.
- Highly abrasive ingredients: Damages tooth enamel, creating sensitive teeth.
Homemade Natural Toothpaste
If you don’t particularly want to be putting those ingredients in your mouth, you’re not alone. A simple cost-effective alternative is to make your own with natural ingredients that you probably already have.
Below you’ll find a recipe for your very own homemade toothpaste. The main ingredients are baking soda and coconut oil, with the cocoa promoting remineralization of teeth.
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil (add more or loss depending on desired consistency)
- 1 Tbsp. bentonite clay
- 2 tsp. cacao unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. Baking soda
- Melt the coconut oil and allow it to cool slightly.
- Mix the dry ingredients together.
- Slowly begin mixing in the coconut oil until the desired consistency is reached.
Importance of Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins are crucial for oral health, these vitamins dissolve in fat making absorbing them far easier on paleo. To be more specific, vitamin A, D, E and especially K2 all contribute to healthy teeth. For instance, if women have a high vitamin D intake when pregnant, their child has a lower risk of cavities (1).
Additionally, children with lower levels of vitamin D are associated with more cavities, increasing vitamin D may help treat it (2). Vitamin A is also associated with lower tooth decay and is plentiful on paleo (3).
Dr. Weston Price studied indigenous people of various countries to determine a nutritional cause for tooth decay. Dr. Price found that on average, they had 10 times the fat-soluble vitamins than Americans in the 1930s had.
Those with great dental health all had a vitamin known as K2, referred to back then as “Activator X”. Experts who study this vitamin say that deficiency is very common, considering the prevalence of tooth decay it’s easy to agree.
K2 is a vital vitamin for health because it directs the calcium in our bodies to our bones and teeth. Without K2, calcium doesn’t know where to go and builds-up in soft tissue, causing heart disease, osteoarthritis, and kidney issues. With K2 our teeth and bones are supplied with the much-needed calcium, strengthening teeth and fighting cavities. Here are natural ways to increase K2 in your body:
- High-quality Animal products: Eggs, Meat (especially organs), butter/ghee
- Aged Cheeses: gouda, brie and some cheddars (grass fed is an important factor)
- Natto: Fermented Soybeans eaten in Japan (Fermentation results in a relatively benign Paleo product)
Why we Floss
Flossing has never been a routine of mine and I never appreciated the considerable effect it has on our teeth. Toothbrushes can only remove around 60% of plaque from teeth, flossing allows us to reach the remaining 40%.
As of late, the effectiveness of flossing has been criticised by the associated press; saying that the 25 studies reviewed showed no health benefits. Other reviews have had better luck, finding a small link between flossing and a reduction of gingivitis (6).
As the effectiveness of flossing is still up in the air and little reliable research conducted; it’s largely down to personal preference whether you floss or not. I for one, am beginning to floss myself as it causes no harm and potentially improves gum health.
String Floss vs Water Flossers
Not being too comfortable with the idea of flossing, many choose a water flosser over regular floss. Water flossers are easy to use and are recommended for people with sensitive gums or those who find flossing difficult. The effectiveness of water flossers is disputed, with most dentists recommending normal floss.
I have personally used both forms and can testify that water flossers are far easier and quicker. Though, I am now using regular floss to get under my gum line. If you’re interested in water flossers, the one I personally use can be picked up from Amazon (UK).
Keeping your Teeth Healthy
Keeping your teeth healthy needn’t be a difficult task, especially when following the following principles:
- Brush at least 2 minutes each time: Brushing for 2 minutes or longer will give you enough time to remove the built-up plaque from the day.
- Increase fat-soluble vitamin intake: Vitamins A, D, E and especially K2 all contribute to healthy teeth, increasing these vitamins will drastically improve dental health.
- Stick to Paleo: The paleo diet keeps you away from harmful processed carbs and refined sugars which contribute largely to tooth decay.
- Use a soft toothbrush: The use of harder bristled toothbrushes aren’t any more effective than the soft ones and can damage your teeth.
- Floss between brushes: Flossing has the potential to increase gum health and get at 40% of plaque hidden under the gum line.
- Rinse your mouth out with water: water removes excess food and helps to neutralize the acidity of the mouth after eating, keeping teeth strong.
- Thank your meat-based diet: Phosphorus and magnesium are the primary nutrients required for maintaining dental health and are found in meats. Vegetarians reportedly have weaker teeth as a result.