Many people know that my family is a bit ... counter-cultural. I often field questions from friends and acquaintances about many of the choices we make. One of these topics is dental health. Aside from making our own toothpaste, we have been on a journey to re-mineralize our teeth and avoid cavities.

It all started when we had our first child with her first cavity. Now granted, my husband and I had 4 children and about 112 baby teeth entrusted to our care by this time, so we were grateful to be dealing with only one cavity. However, as we researched various methods of filling the cavity, we weren’t pleased with what we read. Aside from the abrasive drilling involved, we didn’t like the options for the filling material (typically toxic and/or carcinogenic) offered to our then 5-year-old daughter. We wondered if there were other options.

I visited the Weston A. Price Foundation website and found a dental book that was highly recommended. We ordered a copy, devoured it, and our lives have been forever changed. I’d like to share some information with you about the book that got us started on holistic dental care: Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel. 

Paradigm Shift

The foundation of this book is a paradigm shift regarding the cause of cavities and poor dental health. What have you been taught is the cause of tooth decay? If you grew up as I did, you learned that bacteria on the teeth consuming sugars are the cause. You are a victim. The bacteria will do what they will do, and the only hope you have is to brush and floss like crazy. And even then, experience shows, many people still get decay. What if you were wrong? What if you could be empowered to fight against cavities?

Nagel’s theory, based on W.D. Miller’s (the first modern dentist) work, does acknowledge a relationship between sugar (and carbohydrates) and tooth decay. However, the idea is not that bacteria attack the tooth coated with sugar, but rather that sugar in the diet weakens the immune system, and when the immune system is weak, the tooth cannot fight infection. It’s a surface verses systemic question about how sugar affects cavities. If the immune system can be boosted through a nutrient-dense diet, the body can fight off pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria in the whole body, including the mouth, and work to repair the teeth. “[W]hen the diet is understood as the cause of cavities, we have full control to heal and prevent tooth decay” (9).

What Must I Do?

Cure Tooth Decay’s nutritional principles affect the diet on many different fronts. One is excluding some common foods from the diet. Second is adding in many super foods for healing. Third, the patient should add some helpful vitamins, minerals, and supplements to the diet.

Nagel says to minimize starchy and sugary foods, or even cut out them out of the diet altogether. The reason for this is the prevenlance of a substance called phytic acid that locks onto nutrients in the foods and keeps them from being bioavailable to the body. Much phytic acid can be eliminated from certain kinds of foods through soaking and and sprouting the grains; however, some still remains. By cutting these foods from your diet, you are allowing the foods you do consume to go to work for your body immediately. Examples of foods to cut out include sweeteners, whole grains, oats, beans, rice, and starchy fruits like bananas. (This is especially important if you are aiming to heal a cavity that has already started. It isn’t as crucial if you already have good dental health and are only hoping to prevent cavities, as long as you do prepare the grains properly with soaking and sprouting.)

What types of foods should you add to your diet? Nagel recommends several nutrient-dense foods, including raw milk, grass-raised meat and organs from these animals, grass-fed butter and cheese, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs, and home-made bone broth. These “super” foods deliver the maximum nutrient per bite to the body and help remineralize the teeth. 

In addition to cutting out grains and adding in nutrient rich foods, there are also some great supplements to take. Cod liver oil ranks high on the list. Calcium is also recommend, for obvious reasons. Skate liver oil and butter oil can also be considered. If you choose to still include grains in your diet, Nagel recommends consuming them with calcium, vitamin C, and healthy fat to protect the body from some of their harmful effects.

Nagel also urges a practice called “oil pulling” which consists of “swooshing” coconut oil around in the mouth for several minutes. The oil grabs onto toxins, and then they can be spit out. An oral irrigator may also be less abrasive than flossing for some individuals.

What if it’s not working? On pages 104 and 105, Nagel says to reconsider 5 different areas in your diet:

  1. Poor Food Quality. Are you eating packaged processed foods? Instead buy the best and freshest food you can find.
  2. Fat-Soluble Vitamins. If you are skimping on the healthful fats and oil supplements, healing will be difficult to achieve.
  3. Too Many Sweets. If you have cavities to heal, you must be disciplined about eating sweets. While honey many be consumed, it should not be done often.
  4. Lack of Minerals. Bone-broth, fish, and organ meat all contain large amounts of minerals. Buy or make the best you can afford.
  5. Poor Food Absorption. If you aren’t digesting well, your body will not be able to use the building blocks you are consuming. Add fermented foods, and consult a digestive specialist with a focus on cleaning your liver.

There are many other focused chapters in the book, especially helpful for parents, including evaluations of toothpastes on the market, concerns about vaccines and cavities, and encouragement to breastfeed.

But, Does it Work?

Sadly, we did end up choosing to fill our little daughter's cavity. However, we still consider the diet a success. We spent months following Nagel’s protocol, but she was still in pain. After more research, we found many parents have had difficulty healing children’s cavities. However, we are thankful that the filled tooth is a baby tooth, and we have hope that her adult teeth will grow in strong and resilient, as we still follow many of the dietary guidelines. Aside from being good for tooth health, I believe they are wise practices for health in general. The guidelines also fit excellently with the GAPS diet, which we are following.

We’ve also had another child need a filling in a baby tooth. At the time, one pediatric dentist recommended 4 fillings, but after consulting a second pediatric dentist we opted for one bio-compatible filling in the only tooth that bothered him. This dentist insisted that we had the right diet, but that the grooves in his molars were, by nature, extremely deep, and it is nearly impossible to remove all food from the pits. With our watch-and-wait plan, as well as the GAPS diet, we’ve gone 9 months without needing to fill those other 3 baby teeth. Initially, he still complained of some discomfort, but thought the fillings would be more painful than waiting it out. Now, we occasionally ask him how the teeth are feeling, and he answers that he hasn’t noticed any uncomfortable sensations at all. The teeth also appear strong when visually inspected.

We have 3 other children who have had no cavities at all. Awesome! Granted, the baby only has 4 teeth, but, we remain optimistic. 

Personally, I have seen much improvement in my own “problem tooth.” I have a molar that has bothered me off and on since 2010, when I had a cavity filled. (A cavity, incidentally, that gave me no symptoms whatsoever, but was detected by x-ray. Learn from my mistake!) Since the tooth was incredibly painful for weeks after the initial filling, the dentist offered to refill it for me. I went through all of that, but it still ached on and off for months. I sought a new dentist, who fitted me for a night guard, to see if my misaligned bite may be responsible for the pain. However after three fittings of the night guard that we just couldn’t get comfortable, I gave up the idea. This new dentist said he thought that a crown would be the only solution left.

My husband and I researched crowns, and didn’t like what we read. So, I did nothing about it for awhile. In the meantime, my daughter was diagnosed with the cavity mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. We found Nagel's book, and immediately began treating the whole family with his recommended diet, not even considering my own tooth pain.

After 3 months of being grain-free, I no longer felt a pain in the tooth. At all. Ever.

Eventually, we began eating grains again, though trying to be thoughtful about souring and sprouting them. And little by little, I noticed occasional pain. During my last pregnancy, I indulged in a lot of sugar, and found the tooth pain to increase even more. Over the past 5 months, however, eating a GAPS Diet, I once again experience no pain with that molar. Weeks go by, and I realize that I never think about it anymore! My husband has had a parallel journey with gum sensitivity healing. Isn’t that amazing?

Toward the end of Nagel’s book, he envisions an inspirational new model on the horizon (167, 168):

The future of dentistry lies in disease prevention through proper nutrition and body chemistry balancing, along with minimally invasive methods to correct dental ... problems. ... Join me now in voicing an urgent call to change the way we administer oral health in our country.

Your dental health starts with your own dietary choices, and those you make on behalf of your family. As you think and research, I invite you to read Cure Tooth Decay as part of your cavity-fighting arsenal.

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