To us, it’s critically important to help heal the misunderstandings that our culture has around how to navigate the path to greater oral health. After all, tooth decay has deep implications about the level of whole-body health that each of us experiences on a daily basis.

5 main dietary aspects that impact our oral health

  • Having sufficient fat-soluble vitamins in our diet (vitamins A, D, E, and K2)
  • Having plenty of vitamins B and C in our diet
  • Having WAY more minerals in our diet
  • The consumption of too many foods that are high in phytic acid
  • Eating too much sugar (in all forms)

In the subsequent articles in this series, we have grouped these 5 main ideas into two categories:  What TO eat to create greater oral health and what NOT to eat to create optimal oral health.

In this article, we’ll explore the inner workings of diet’s impact on oral health.

Setting the foundation…

In order to really put into perspective the role that diet plays in helping or undermining our oral health, this first article is going to explore the work of Dr. Ralph Steinman.

Dr. Steinman was a dental researcher in the 1970s who did extensive research to determine the cause of tooth decay.  He published his work in his amazing book, Dentinal Fluid Transport.

Bear with us here as we wade through this information.

For those of you who are passionate about using diet to create optimal health (or who, like me, enjoy nerding out on old medical journals), you’re going to love this piece to the puzzle!

Dr. Steinman’s work uncovers some foundational information that we need to have in place in order to really grasp the significance of diet and nutrition’s role in creating optimal oral health.

He conducted tens of thousands of experiments on lab rats to determine the cause of tooth decay.  What he found may surprise you.

What the heck is dentinal fluid flow? (and how does it impact my oral health?)

Fundamentally, what Dr. Steinman discovered is that our teeth are alive.

Contrary to the popular cultural belief that teeth are like small rocks, the fact is that our teeth have fluid running through them, and this is called ‘dentinal fluid flow’.

The dentin is the layer of tissue in each of our teeth that’s just between the hard outer (enamel) surface and the inner soft tooth pulp.

Dr. Steinman discovered that this dentinal fluid flow is part of the blood circulation that goes into and out of each of our teeth.

He also discovered that when the dentinal fluid is flowing from the inside of the tooth outward, the teeth are very resistant to decay.  However, when the fluid flow reverses and flows from the outer surface of the tooth towards the inner portion of the tooth, decay sets in very quickly.

The thug bugs in our mouths contribute to tooth decay. If the dentinal fluid is flowing the healthy way, this flow prevents the thug bugs from being able to decay the teeth; the flow washes them out of the teeth.  It’s like they have to swim upstream to get into the teeth.  On the other hand, if the dentinal fluid flow reverses, then it’s like the thug bugs get a free pass on a highway right into our teeth!

Dr. Steinman found that dentinal fluid flow is controlled by the parotid gland, a part of our salivary system that is located in the region behind our lower jaw.  Then he discovered that the parotid gland is controlled by the part of our brain called the hypothalamus.  For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to this relationship between dentinal fluid flow, the parotid gland, and the hypothalamus as ‘dentinal fluid flow’.

With these pieces in place, Dr. Steinman then went about discovering what factors cause the dentinal fluid to flow the health-giving way as well as what causes the dentinal fluid to flow in the way that promotes decay.

The real cause of tooth decay…

Dr. Steinman found that the balance of mineral phosphorus in the blood is what causes the dentinal fluid to flow one way or the other.

This is crucial, so I’m going to repeat it:

What determines whether our teeth are resistant to decay or prone to decay is the balance of the mineral phosphorus in our blood!

Through extensive experimentation, Dr. Steinman found that when he induced a low blood phosphorus level, the whole dentinal fluid system went into self-destruct mode and decay quickly followed.  He also proved that when the blood phosphorus was maintained at a high level, dentinal fluid flowed in a healthy way and there was very little (and sometimes zero) decay.

Now, remember that a little knowledge can be dangerous.

So, let’s not jump to the conclusion that all we need to do is supplement with phosphorus–it’s not that simple, unfortunately.  🙂

The gritty details about blood phosphorus…

While the specific measurement of phosphorus in the blood isn’t really important, for those of you who would like to know, the magic number that Dr. Steinman identified was 3.5 mg/dl blood.  So, if blood phos is > 3.5, dentinal fluid flows in the healthy direction.

If it’s < 3.5, fluid flow reverses and promotes decay.  Incidentally, if you’ve had or are going to have any recent blood work done, phosphorus is a common mineral that’s measured, and its level can give you profound insight into the overall health of your body (as well as whether or not your dentinal fluid is flowing the healthy way).

Blood phosphorus balance causes the cascade through the body which results in how our dentinal fluid flows, which causes our teeth to be resistant to decay or prone to decay.

Yes, thug bugs in the mouth are part of the issue of decay (and for that, we use our Ivy Dental Mouth Blend).  However, thug bugs are only part of the problem. Diet really plays a foundational role in whether we experience resistance to or a tendency towards decay.

With this important information in place, let’s cover the last point for today.

Since this whole issue is around blood phosphorus, let’s begin to look at what factors cause blood phosphorus levels to rise or fall. For this, we’ll use a wonderful graphic we learned from Dr. Hal Huggins.  Dr. Huggins was the modern dental guru whose work contributed greatly to our understanding of how blood chemistry impacts the health of the whole system.

What causes low blood phosphorus?

Dr. Huggins explained to us that phosphorus balance is impacted by several other factors in a teeter-totter fashion.

Simply put, while we have phosphorus on one side of the balance, we have some heavy hitters on the other side, including calcium, glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol.  So, when any of these factors goes up, phosphorus goes down.

With this, you can see that it’s not as simple as taking more phosphorus supplements. 🙂

Let’s quickly review the important points covered in this article.

  • Our teeth are alive and have a fluid flowing through them.
  • When this fluid flows the health-giving way, our teeth easily resist decay.
  • When dentinal fluid flows the wrong way, decay soon follows.
  • The balance of blood phosphorus determines which way the dentinal fluid flows in our teeth.