In October I shared the first post in my series on natural tooth care, inspired by my family's own struggles with tooth decay. Today I'm sharing the second post, on the importance of eating a tooth-healthy diet.
Prepare yourself. It's a bit of a doozy.
The Holistic Tooth Care series will contain three posts:
Part Two: Diet
If you're just joining us now, I suggest you go back and read Part One before digging in here with step two.
Let's get started, shall we?
Holistic Tooth Care, Part Two: Diet
As I mentioned in Part One, our family made several swift changes in how we cared for our teeth at a time when we were dealing with rapid, significant decay. The biggest of which was diet.
Changing how you brush is a quick and easy fix. Changing how you eat? Well that's a much bigger undertaking.
Before you read through this post have the following in mind:
- You don't have to do this all at once. In fact, if your family is not dealing with tooth decay and you'll reading this as a preventative, you can go as slowly as you'd like. Maybe you'll pick and choose which diet changes you take on.
- You will cheat. It's normal. No one is perfect and beating yourself up ain't going to make that white-flour-and-refined-sugar-bender any less real. Let it go and get on with what to eat tomorrow.
- Make changes to your family's diet because you want to eat the most nourishing foods you can so you can grow strong and feel healthy. (Not, for example, because your child has "crubling teeth and if you don't eat this food you'll have a mouth full of fillings!") See the difference? Present the changes you make for your family in the most loving, positive light you can. It can make a huge difference in how you and your family feel about this new path.
- If you are dealing with significant decay, view these steps as empowerment in your child's care. Give yourself time and slowly the fear will ease. (This I know.)
- If you or your child is experiening profound decay I can't encourage you enough to jump right in with as many of these changes as you can while working with your dentist. My daughters early childhood tooth decay stopped progressing after we made the shift outlined below. It worked for us. I hope it also works for you!
Interestingly, many of the changes outlined below are the very same changes that I recommend for healing eczema.
I believe that both eczema and tooth decay are not the problem in their own right, but a sign of a greater systemic imbalance. The tip of the proverbial iceberg if you will.
Which makes addressing these conditions at their root and in their entirety that much more important, don't you think?
So let's dig in. Now is the time for change.
Here is an overview of the dietary changes I suggest for healthy teeth.
We will be adding some nutrient- and mineral-rich foods and taking away foods that deplete our body's minerals.
- (Bone broth (daily)
- Probiotic foods (daily)
- Mineral-rich fish (twice per week)
- Raw or fermented dairy (daily)
Reduce (or remove):
- Processed foods
- Sweets (sugar, dried fruit, sweet fresh fruits, juice)
- Unsoaked grains
- Unsoaked nuts and seeds
What did your ancestors eat?
It wasn't too many generations ago when people on all points of the globe ate whole, real, yes, even organic food with the seasons. Meats, eggs, veggies. Because that's what food was. Little was wasted and even bones and more unsavory (yet nutrient dense) parts were utilized.
The modern, Western diet, however is built largely on less nutrient-dense (and more processed) foods.
And this difference, my friends, is at the heart of many of our health problems.
What would change if we tipped the scales of nutrition back a bit toward the way our great- great-grandparents ate?
We're going to add some of the mineral and nutrient rich foods that were once commonplace back in our diets – for our teeth, our bones, our brains, our immune systems, and the rest of our bodies.
We need these foods. Let's bring them back into our kitchens.
We'll also reduce or eliminate some of the foods that are a drain on our systems. Because that's just good sense, whether you have decay or not.
These changes aren't just good for your teeth – it's good for the whole of you.
I create a four week schedule of diet changes for foods to add and a four week schedule of foods to reduce or eliminate. You can do these two sets of changes separately or at the same time. It's up to you.
If you're in a crisis you can do them all beginning today.
Print out the list below, tape it to your fridge, and keep at it. We started seeing changes within just a couple of weeks in our child's teeth. If that's not encouraging I don't know what is!
Let's add some nourishing, affordable, real food to our diets that will recharge the minerals in our bodies. Here's how:
Week 1. Drink bone broth (daily)
I'm not talking about purchased soup stock or bullion, my friend. I mean the real deal. Slow simmered bone broth.
If you make one diet change, adding homemade bone broth to your weekly rhythm is a great place to start.
Bone broth is a nutrition super-food and you can turn it into nourishing soups, cook grains and beans in it, and drink it by the steaming mug-full.
Aim for 1 pint per day for children and 1 quart per day for adults. Start with less and work your way up (even 1/4 that amount is a good start).
Don't skip this. I regard it as the single most important diet change we made to heal our teeth.
Making your own bone broth takes only ten minutes of work time, plus 24 to 48 hours of simmering. Once you get the hang of it you'll find it's faster than clearing the dinner dishes off the table.
How to Make Bone Broth
It's so. Darn. Easy. And delicious. (Really!) Here's how to make 1/2 gallon or more in five easy steps.
1. Save any bones from your weekly meals in a bag in the freezer. Fish, chicken, turkey, duck, beef, venison, lamb, beef… you get the idea. You can also purchase bones inexpensively at your local grocery or coop. Throughout the week add any carrot and celery trims, onion ends and peels, and garlic trims to the bag.
2. On stock making day transfer your bag of bones and vegetable scraps to a slowcooker or large soup pot. Add an extra head of garlic cut in half across the cloves (don't bother peeling or separating cloves) and a small onion or carrot if your veggie scraps aren't abundant. No need to chop or peel anything. Just toss them in whole.
How many bones and how much vegetables should you add? It's adaptable. For chicken stock aim for one chicken carcass, one medium onion, one celery stalk and one medium carrot as a good place to start for an average (8-12 quart) stock pot.
Add twelve peppercorns, one bay leaf and (optional) one 2" knob of ginger root, cut in half and smashed with the blunt end of a knife.
3. Cover everything with water and add 2 Tb apple cider vinegar. The vinegar is important. It helps extract the minerals for the bones into the broth, which it what we're after. Set aside for one hour while the vinegar starts to work it's way into the bones.
4. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered on very low heat. Leave on low heat for 24 hours for small bones (chicken and fish) and 48 hours or more for large (cut beef, lamb, or venison bones). Add water as needed. You can begin drawing off your stock and replacing what you take with water after just six hours. But the longer you simmer the more mineral rich your broth will be.
5. Turn off heat, cool, and strain. Salt to taste before serving.
Drink immediately or store in your freezer or fridge. Use as a base for soups and stews and use to cook any beans or grains you eat.
If storing in the fridge use within three to five days.
Week 2. Add probiotic foods to your diet (daily)
Once you are in the habit of eating bone broth every day let's get in the habit of eating live fermented, probiotic foods every day.
Why? Because the probiotics in your food will help recharge your gut flora. And your gut flora is your body's key to proper digestion and the absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat.
We serve live fermented sauerkraut at almost every meal. For the sake or our budget we make our own every two weeks or so. It takes a bit longer than broth, but not by much. Here is a great recipe to get you started if you are new to fermenting at home.
Probiotics are found in more foods than just kraut! I give a nice list here, so for the sake of brevity I'll ask you to pop over there to pick your favorites.
Week 3. Add high mineral fish (twice per week)
Wild caught salmon, sardines, and herring are all great sources of minerals. When our tooth decay began we made a habit of eating all three, thought the herring we can find locally is quite sweet so we stopped eating it regularly. Twice a week is a good goal.
We added salmon burgers (a basic version is canned salmon, an egg, 1/2 small onion, minced, and salt and pepper, fried in oil on a hot griddle) as a weekly lunch and sardines as a snack or lunch as well. Easy, quick, done.
(Note: If you are concerned about mercury in fish sardines are a great option. This post is a great read on the subject.)
Week 4. Add raw or fermented dairy (daily)
Raw or fermented dairy is a great mineral source as well. When my daughter's decay was in full swing our dentist advised me to night wean. After reading the book Heal Tooth Decay I decided to keep nursing on demand – including at night – though I wiped her teeth down after she latched off.
For non-nurslings a great source of easy to digest, mineral rich dairy is homemade whole milk yogurt.
You can find my how-to right here.
Avoid store-bought sweetened yogurts as they are very sweet and the probiotics are less lively than their plain counterparts.
We also provide our family with local, whole, raw milk and cream and an unlimited stream of grass-fed butter. Growing bodies are so hungry for the vitamins these foods provide.
Cut it out! (Foods to reduce or remove)
I'll be the first to admit that adding new foods is easier than taking away old favorites.
But your teeth (and the rest of yoru body) will thank you for every small change you make.
Remember that you can do this at your own pace. And if you backslide during a rough season – eh, so it goes. Allow yourself this stumble and then choose what steps you are ready to take once more.
We are all imperfect, even in a journey like this one.
Why are we removing these foods?
Some foods we eat either do not provide the nutrition our bodies need and are empty filler, or are a drain on our bodies – anti-nutrients so to speak. Others upset our blood sugar in a way that promotes tooth decay as our bodies draw minerals into our blood to restabilize.
Because we're trying to heal we are going to reduce or better yet remove foods that have a negative effect on our health.
How to remove (favorite) foods
This might hurt a little.
Here are some tips for cutting out foods you love that don't love you back.
- Get them out of the house! Having a bag of contraband hidden in the back of the pantry is a disaster waiting to happen. Either give it away or eat what you have and don't replace it. Because what you don't have in the house often simply isn't an option.
- Pack snacks! Finding yourself hungry, cranky, and not at home can be a train wreck. Stock the glove box or your bag with healthy (new) favorites.
- Find delicious alternatives. Love chips? Try kale chips. Love ice cream? Make some at home so you can control the ingredients. You get the idea.
- Enjoy a treat now and then. We love treats. Make space for treats that are a little less naughty and you might not miss the sassy stuff at all.
Week 1. Processed foods
Many processed foods act like a sugar once ingested. Refined, processed foods in particular. And sugar effects teeth differently than we used to think. It jacks your blood sugar, then your body pulls minerals from your bones and teeth to stabilize. Bummer.
What is a processed food? Anything that doesn't resemble something that you might have picked from a garden or brought home from a farm.
Could you make white flour in your own kitchen? Probably not. Then it's processed. Same for white sugar, white rice, weird store bought drinks and Snickers bars.
Cut processed foods completely or replace them with healthier unprocessed substitutes.
The only sweeteners you'll find in our kitchen are simple, unrefined sweets: honey, maple, and coconut sugar. (And we use them sparingly.) As for pasta, your spaghetti noodles can be replaced with a baked spaghetti squash or some spiral cut zucchini. (No, it's not the same but we love it anyway.) Lettuce wraps can sub in for a sandwich. You get the idea.
And if you feel you're unlikely to succeed at making this change, take it slow. Purchased white bread can be replaced with a sprouted, whole grain bread or a homemade sourdough.
And once new habits are made you'll hardly miss your old favorites.
I mean that.
Week 2. Sweets of all sorts (refined and unrefined sweeteners, dried fruit, sweet fresh fruits, juice, etc.)
Just as the processed foods above act like sugar in our bodies and upset our blood sugar, sugar (obviously) does the same.
And sugar goes beyond the white sort.
Anything sweet will affect your blood sugar (Yup, even stevia.), so slowly adjust your palate to less sweets.
I don't suggest that you cut all sugar (your body needs some!), but really be aware of how much you are consuming.
And while unprocessed sweets (fruit, honey, maple) are easier to digest and more nutrient-rich than their processed counterparts (corn syrup, white sugar), they still effect blood sugar. Go easy.
Low-sugar fruits like berries, sour apples, and grapefruit make great treats, too. We also found using a bit of an unrefined sweetener with a couple of drops of natural stevia was a great way to wean ourselves off of excesive sweets.
The beautiful thing is that our bodies adjust. Reduce the sugar and your palate will magically adjust. My kids recently tasted a one-time favorite purchased ice cream and complained that it was "way too sweet".
Week 3. Unsoaked grains
The outer layer of grains (the germ) is high in phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that bears a high cost for our bodies – especially our teeth.
If you consume higher quantities of phytic acid you are more likely to have tooth decay. It's that simple. (More here.)
Soaking and sprouting grains helps remove phytic acid and allows our bodies to gain – rather than lose – nutrients when we eat.
Soaking grains is a new habit, so give yourself time to get into a groove.
You'll want to give yourself 12 to 24 hours of soaking time before eating your grains.
I'll use steel cut oats for my example since oats are very high in phytic acid.
Fill your cooking pot with water, then add 1 C steel cut oats plus 1 Tb whey (You can get whey by pouring a bit of yogurt through a fine mesh strainer. Sometime when I'm feeling lazy I just add 2 Tb yogurt. Don't tell anyone.) You can also add 1 Tb of Apple Cider Vinegar.
Set the pot on the counter for 12 to 24 hours.
When it's time to cook drain and rinse your grain, then cover with boiling water and cook as usual, though for a shorter cooking time.
Think of this for oatmeal, millet, rice – any whole, rolled, or cracked grains you eat.
Sprouted grains are also very digestible compared to their unsprouted counterparts. Here is how to sprout grains for flour.
That being said, don't lean too hard on grains. Let them be minor players in your diet, not the star of the show.
Week 4. Unsoaked seeds and nuts
Everything I said about grains applies to seeds and nuts, too. Plus they have loads of enzyme inhibitors that make them extra hard to digest. Soak 'em.
As I type I have a mason jar of walnuts and another of almonds soaking on the counter.
Here's how to make your seeds and nuts digestible.
It doesn't take much effort and makes your food so much more nourishing.
Worth noting: the only time we saw new tooth decay in our daughter was years after her early decay during a time when we were eating lots of nuts and seeds, mostly unsoaked. Lesson learned.
And there you have it. No, it won't be painless. But yes, it might just be a deal-changer for you or your child's decay.
A few weeks of effort to create some new habits and you might just reboot your whole family's health.
Will it hard? Yeah, probably.
Will it be worth it? Goodness, yes.
In the coming weeks I will bring you part three in the series: supplements. (It's easier than this step, I promise.)
If you are dealing with a tooth crisis in your home I suggest you do a little homework now by reading this thread on Mothering.com. It will take you several days to work your way thorough (take your time) but it's absolutely rich with information that can help get your family moving in a healthy direction.
That's it for today. Happy eating, friends!
Please note: I am neither a dentist nor an expert. The information above is based on our unique experiences as a family, and is not intended as medical advice. Work together with a holistic dentist and find a course of action that works best for your family.
If this post left you with questions or a hunger for more information I suggest the book Cure Tooth Decay and this thread on Mothering.com.
I also strongly recommend Nourishing Traditions. While we don't follow a strictly Weston Price style diet any more, during our crisis it was immensely helpful. During our time of acute decay this book was an indispensable resource that helped us re-learn how to eat.
Another wonderful book to pick up to help you find a new relationship with food is Practical Paleo. So much wonderful information there on how our food choices effect our health.