NUTRITION FOR BETTER DENTAL HEALTH (Click Here for 42 Dental Health Promoting Recipes)
by Suzy Larsen, Culinary Nutrition Expert, Functional Nutrition Coach
You may believe there’s not much you can do to impact your oral health other than brushing and flossing diligently. However, nutritional professionals can offer loads of advice to help you deal with cavities, gum and even jaw issues. A whole food anti-inflammatory diet containing key micronutrients like Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, Vitamin A, Zinc, Calcium, and Magnesium provides an excellent start to healing dental issues as well as providing the whole body with the nutrients it deserves. Besides powerful micronutrients, a few other healthful practices and advice may help you achieve greater oral health.
Oxygen is the number one “nutrient” we need for our bodies but how we breathe in and out can make a vast difference in how we use that O2. The act of breathing correctly, then, begins our exploration of how to improve overall health and, specifically, oral health. We optimize our use of oxygen when we breathe through our nose. Besides nearly eliminating a dry mouth (and an increase in bad bacteria ensuing from it), the oxygen we breathe in is warmed in our nostrils and mixed with nitric oxide which results in more o2 intake in the lungs and more vital oxygen for our cells. It also improves our ability to ward off unwanted invaders we encounter in the atmosphere such as viruses and harmful bacteria.
Nasal breathing also has the added benefit of reducing anxiety since it activates a parasympathetic system response (the rest and digest system). Specially-designed mouth tape can be used to ensure you are breathing in and out through the nose, especially important during sleep when we may be unaware of how we’re breathing. Breathing correctly through the nose can also positively impact sleep quality.
Breathing through our nose with our tongue lightly suctioned to the palate is also important in helping to shape a mouth that is able to accommodate all our teeth. Mouth breathing, according to The Breath Institute, can adversely impact a child’s facial development.,
For more information on this fascinating connection between breathing and mouth realty, please read The Dental Diet by Dr. Steven Lin, Breath by James Nestor, Conscious Breathing by Anders Olsson and check out the websites of Dr. Mark Burhenne and Soroush Zaghi, MD. If you are in Kelowna, BC, you can also visit CO₂llaborative Care + Research where Dr. Hillary Pada, Doctor of Dentistry, Orofacial Myologist and Ambassador of The Breath Institute treats patients with a myofunctional approach to the healthy functioning of the mouth, teeth, jaw, microbiome and airways.
THE ORAL MICROBIOME
You many have heard of the microbiome in reference to our gut but in truth that’s not the only place you will find little good and bad invaders that inhabit our body. The mouth is the gatekeeper of our digestive system so any discussion of diversity of the microbiome must include the mouth too. Indeed, an oral microbiome that is imbalanced and lacks diversity plays a part in tooth decay. So besides brushing and flossing you can now add caring for the microbiome as part of your daily requirements.
Why is it important to aim for a diverse microbiome? If you have a properly balanced gut teeming with diverse cultures of bacteria, you are better able to respond to pathogenic invaders. To envision this, think of a rainforest with thousands of species of biota—there are many “specialists” ready to deal with multiple situations. On the flip side, a “monocrop” with one species can’t be a specialist in all things so something must give and that is its ability to thrive. Since about 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, investing effort in creating diversity and richness improves immunity. The more diverse the ecosystem, the more resilient you are (ie, immunity is improved).
The oral microbiome is the first line of defense in the immune system, then. One of the best ways to increase diversity is by eating fermented foods. Fermented foods contain probiotics which help keep your oral microbiome balanced and ultimately affect the quality of the saliva which can impact teeth and gums. Make sure to include prebiotics in your diet which help to feed the good bacteria. Intermittent fasting can also increase diversity.
SIMPLE SUGARS & COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES.
In the mouth, there are two types of bacteria, fast metabolizers that feed on simple carbohydrates like sugar that can contribute to tooth decay and slow metabolizers that feed on complex carbs like fiber. Acidic waste product created from the bad bacteria lowers the pH of the mouth and creates a ripe ground for teeth corrosion and cavities. An excess of sugar also has negative effects as it causes high blood sugar which is implicated in many health conditions including the interruption of the proper growth of teeth and bones. If sugar inflates blood sugar levels, then protein, fat & fiber are key is tamping down its effect. Each meal/snack should contain protein, fat & fiber, then.
Let’s get those jaws moving. Not unlike other muscles in the body, we need to exercise our jaws by chewing more roughage and tough foods. Sadly the adoption of a modern diet with its ready to eat soft foods, has lead to atrophy of the jaw muscles and therefore dental crowding. Surprisingly dental records show that our ancestor’s teeth were more often than not straight simply because they chewed a lot! Chewing food also stimulates the salivary glands and increases enzymes to begin the digestive process. It’s a win for your mouth and the rest of your body. You can also chewy gums called Falim or Mastic that give your jaw a great workout.
Another important thing you can do is to restrict snacking as each time you eat your mouth becomes acidic for awhile increasing chances of oral damage. As a self professed grazer, I have to remind myself not to constantly snack throughout the day. This practice is harmful not only to the mouth but also the digestive system since an optimally functioning gut needs its breaks.
Vitamin D is the number one vitamin for immunity inside the teeth. A deficiency has been linked to tooth decay and gum disease as well as the disruption of dentin formation. This valuable fat soluble vitamin is responsible for supplying the bones, teeth and muscles with the “cement” it needs to build healthy teeth. Vitamin D also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Sun exposure, supplements and food sources like fatty fish, liver and egg yolk all provide Vitamin D. Vitamin K2 should be taken with Vitamin D. Vitamin K2 is another essential fat soluble vitamin that works in conjunction with Vitamin D. It’s an “activator” vitamin that takes the calcium and gets it to the bones and teeth rather than the arteries where it can form plaque.,, Animals such as cows eat K1 and it’s then converted to K2 (MK4 form) in the form of organ meats, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed butter, shellfish and emu oil. Grass-fed meat and eggs contain a considerable amount more K2 that grain-fed. The K2 (MK7 form) is vegetarian and comes from sauerkraut or natto. If you do well with dairy, you can also obtain it from Gouda and Brie cheese.
Vitamin A is important is helping to break down old bone to make way for the new. It’s essential for normal cell development and bone growth. Organ meats such as Beef and Lamb liver and oily fish like Cod Liver and Mackerel contain a high amount of this fat soluble vitamin. Wild Caught Salmon contains about 500mcg (or 50% Daily Value) per fillet but Beef Liver contains even more with 6420mcg (or 740% DV) per slice. Many people choose Cod Liver Oil capsules which contain 1350mcg (or 150% DV) per 1tsp serving. If none of these options fit your dietary style, 1 cup of Sweet Potatoes has about 1800mcg (or 200% DV). 1 cup Cooked Kale has 880mcg (or 98% DV). Turnip Greens and Collards are highly recommended as well.
Magnesium: This is very important vitamin that is getting a lot of press nowadays for its importance in helping with smooth muscle relaxation—it helps by calming muscle whether in the body or face, particularly important when it comes to grinding teeth. A magnesium deficiency is associated with periodontal disease. However, this is not the extent of magnesium’s multi-faceted role including over 600 enzymatic processes. Sadly most people don’t consume enough and it can have a negative effect in nearly every system of the body including the mouth and teeth. Magnesium works in conjunction with calcium. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, black beans, spinach, and seeds such as hemp, pumpkin and flax. It’s also in dark chocolate (above 70%) and bananas.
Calcium is important in maintaining the mineral composition of teeth. One study of young women with a deficiency of Calcium and Vitamin D showed decreased oral health. Eating more calcium, however, may not be the answer since absorption depends on its form and method of preparation. For example, phytic acid from grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can bind to minerals like calcium & magnesium preventing absorption. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are three ways to reduce phytic acid and increase absorption. The most bioavailable (easily absorbed) sources of calcium are dark green leafy vegetables and bitters like turnip and mustard greens. Canned fish such as bone-containing salmon and sardine are also good choices. Vitamin D, and indeed, all fat soluble vitamins are necessary for Calcium’s appropriate use in the body.
While we’re on the topic of mineralization of teeth, it’s important to discuss the pH (acidity/alkalinity) of the mouth. The process of remineralization/demineralization is disrupted when the pH of the mouth falls below 5.5 which can happen when there is an “acid attack.” Acidic foods include fermentable carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose, fructose and cooked starch. To promote a neutral pH in the mouth, sodium bicarbonate toothpaste with an alkaline pH of about 8.3 can act as a buffer to those who eat a lot of carbs.
However, a better strategy is to avoid added sugars and choose alkaline-promoting foods such as vegetables and fruits instead. Some alkaline fruits are: avocados, grapes, kiwi, and some berries. Dates or figs can also make a nice treat when you want something sweet. Alkaline vegetables include: cruciferous vegetables like arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, turnip roots and greens; dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard, mustard/beet/collard greens; and onions, celery, cucumber, leaks, parsley, mushrooms, peppers and garlic to name a few. However, even fruits and veggies leaning toward acidic still have beneficial nutrients your body needs. It can be confusing and not very sustainable to figure out how much alakaline vs. acidic foods to eat daily. Rather use a common sense approach which means eating a diverse and well-balanced diet full of naturally occurring carbohydrates like veggies and limited fruits instead of sugars that come in processed foods.
Zinc is another mineral involved in remineralization of the teeth. Besides helping our bodies process Vitamin A it is involved with healthy gene expression. Zinc has also been shown to control the formation of dental plaque. Food sources include chicken, beef, spinach, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas.
Boron and Silica are two trace minerals important in building bones & teeth. Boron is one trace mineral important in healing bones that house the teeth. Boron is found in avocados, peaches and pears. Silicon is found in bananas, carrots and leafy greens. All vitamins & minerals, however, work in harmony to help achieve glowing health
Collagen is connective tissue that forms the structure of our joints, skin and gums. In fact, it is the main component of the tooth’s dentin layer. It’s also like the glue that helps repair the damage to the body. You can add collagen powder to your smoothie or consume bone broth which produces a gelatinous substance when cooled that is essentially the cooked form of the collagen that comes from the bones, marrows and joints of animals. Your body can make its own collagen from Vitamin C and complete proteins along with Magnesium. Collagen also helps heal a distressed gut too.
- SUGARS in yogurt, alcohol, candy, soda, processed foods. Even fruit juice, supposedly healthy, is devoid of fiber meant to slow down sugar’s effects. High fructose corn syrup is very difficult for the liver to process.
- WHITE FLOUR in bread, crackers, cereals & pastas break down to simple sugars in our mouth. Weston A. Price found that as soon as flour was introduced to a “primitive” society, tooth decay sky-rocketed.
- GRAINS are high in carbohydrates increasing the body’s burden to deal with the influx of sugar.
- “VEGETABLE OILS” like Canola, Soybean, Corn, Sunflower, Safflower, and Peanut. These highly processed oils are high in the inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids that become unstable in our body. Good fats (see below) have a more favorable ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6.
- GLUTEN is implicated in many health diseases. What Alesio Fasano has confirmed through his studies is that gluten has a profound impact on the microbiome and the gut lining in everyone, not just celiacs. Our aim is to improve overall health as well as oral health, so try eliminating gluten to see if you benefit.
- DAIRY MILK*. Pasteurization heats the milk to high temperatures changing the structure of the molecules; and homogenization changes the shape of the molecules. This makes it unfamiliar to the body and can cause digestive and inflammatory issues. Another reason to consider eliminating milk is that lactase, an enzyme needed to break down lactose a component of milk, is absent after childhood in a large percentage of the population. Alternative sources are dark green leafy vegetables and sesame seeds. *A2 milk or cheese may be better tolerated than conventional milk & is less inflammatory,. Grass-fed butter is acceptable too. As an option, try coconut milk, and nut/seed milks instead.
- PEANUTS contain mycotoxins a product of mold. Replace this “legume” with nut/seed butter.
- SOY-based products are often highly processed (think plant-based burgers). Tempeh, however, is fermented and therefore easier to digest.
- HEALTHY FATS like Grass-fed butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, cod liver oil (try fermented for easy absorption), avocado/avocado oil, coconut cream & oil, flax seed oil, tallow (from free range cows) & lard (from free range pigs)
- DARK LEAFY GREENS have antioxidants, magnesium and other critical nutrients
- SWEET POTATOES are a good vegan source of Vitamin A
- ORGAN MEATS have high amounts of Vitamin A and D
- GRASS FED/FINISHED BEEF has ample condensed forms of the vitamins A, D, and K
- PASTURE-RAISED CHICKEN is high in Vitamins A, D and E.
- FREE-RANGE EGGS have more Vitamin A, D & omega 3 than conventionally-raised
- FATTY FISH like Wild Caught Salmon, Wolf Fish, Mackerel, Sable Fish, Trout, & Sardines
- PUMPKIN SEEDS are high in Magnesium and Zinc. These seeds along with hemp, sesame & sunflower are high in tryptophan which is converted to serotonin then melatonin in darkness improving sleep.
- COLLAGEN/GELATIN can be blended in smoothies and Bone Broth can be enjoyed daily.
- FIBER from vegetables, berries, flax seed, psyllium.
- FERMENTED Food like Apple Cider Vinegar, Sauerkraut and Kimchi. Sauerkraut also has K2 and contains lactic acid which inhibits bad bacteria Consider probiotics too.
- PREBIOTICS are a special type of fiber that feed good bacteria. Try asparagus, avocado, onion & oats. Xylitol is another prebiotic!, In fact, this special sugar may reduce dental caries.
- CRUNCHY VEGGIES & Food. Consume roughage like nori, nuts, seeds, carrots, celery, jicama and radishes. Chew on tough organic jerky to keep the jaws strong.
- SOAKED & SPROUTED Food reduces phytic acid and helps predigest the simple carbs of grains and increases bioavailability/digestibility.
- ANTI-INFLAMMATORY Foods & Spices like ginger, garlic and turmeric.
- WATER, WATER, WATER. Helps transports nutrients and improves digestion/elimination
 LIN, D., 2019. DENTAL DIET. [Place of publication not identified]: HAY House UK LTD, p.89.
 Marsh PD. Dental plaque as a biofilm: the significance of pH in health and caries. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 2009;30:76–78
 Featherstone JD. The science and practice of caries prevention. J Am Dent Assoc. 2000;131:887–899
 Madeswaran S, Jayachandran S. Sodium bicarbonate: a review and its uses in dentistry. Ind J Dent Res. 2018;29:672