What if a nutritional change could spur your body to heal cavities by sealing off damaged areas of your teeth with new thick barriers of dentine?
If this could happen, you’d have heard about it, right? You’d think multiple studies would be appearing in peer-reviewed science journals, and the media would be covering the good news.
The truth is it’s been more than 70 years since any serious attempt to heal cavities with nutritional intervention has been documented in a scientific journal. But if you go back far enough, you’ll find something fascinating: researchers documented numerous human dietary interventions which stopped new cavity formation and healed up existing cavities.
Their strategy was simple: supply enough nutrients and remove the anti nutrients blocking their absorption and utilization. In this article we’re going to dive into the particulars of how you can replicate their results today.
Heal Cavities? What Your Dentist Thinks
Ask a dentist if you can heal cavities with a diet change and you’ll likely get a firm, “No”. This isn’t surprising, since it’s what they’re taught in school.
The text books they learn from tell them dental cavities result from the hard tissues of the teeth being broken down faster than they’re redeposited via saliva. This happens when bits of food – which are stuck to our teeth – get consumed by bacteria. The bacteria produces highly acidic waste products which eats away at the minerals in our teeth. If the acid breaks down our hard tissues faster than it can be redeposited, you get carries, which are more commonly called cavities1.
Researchers have known this for a long time, but here’s the element you won’t hear: your body’s ability to heal up those cavities by depositing new hard tissue, the rate at which cavities heal, and the quality of the hard tissue being deposited are dependent on several nutritional factors. Your dentist will stress prevention via flossing, brushing, and dental cleanings, which is truly important, but you won’t hear much about nutrition except admonishments that you could avoid acidic food, sticky food, and sugary beverages.
Enter The Mellanbys
Although you’ve likely never heard of them, the British husband and wife team of Drs. Edward and May Mellanby changed the world. By the 1920s, Edward Mellanby had discovered that the epidemic of rickets, which had been ravaging the western world for centuries, was caused by a lack of Vitamin D, and that other nutritional considerations, such as a grain-based diets high in phytic acid or a lack of calcium, could exacerbate rickets 2
…It is now known how to diminish the spread of caries and even to stop the active carious process in many affected teeth.
– Dr. Edward Mellanby
Their research had a huge impact, and soon small doses of vitamin D were being added to milk and other processed foods. Before long, rickets were largely tamed, and Edward Mellanby was knighted.
But what is even less well known is that The Mellanbys never stopped being interested in bones and teeth, nor investigating what could be done to allow them to grow and heal properly.
The Research You Haven’t Seen
From the mid 1920s and into 1930s, the Mellanbys investigated to what degree the nutritional factors underlying rickets also affect cavity formation and healing. After finding that lack of Vitamin D and and grain-based diets could bring on cavities in dogs, they started several human trials, and published their results in the British Medical Journal in 1932 3.
They divided 62 hospitalized children with preexisting cavities into three groups and monitored them over the course of six months. The first group received normal hospital food and an additional serving of oatmeal. The second group ate normal hospital food but received supplementary Vitamin D. The third group had a specially modified grain-free diet and also received Vitamin D. The third group was not a low carb diet, and they ate plenty of fruit, potatoes, and other sources of carbohydrates.
As you can see, the oatmeal group did poorly, with very little cavity healing and quite a bit of new cavity formation. The addition of Vitamin D to the hospital diet allowed many cavities to heal, and far fewer to form, but the situation wasn’t perfect. The most impressive response came from group three, where the removal of grains and the addition of Vitamin D healed almost all the cavities and allowed almost no new ones to form. These results may seem fantastic, but they were actually echoed in several studies by other researchers in the 1930s.
The Nutritional Changes:
In the above study, Vitamin D made a big difference, but adding vitamin D while also removing grain products had the biggest impact. Why is that? Adequate Vitamin D stores allow the body to lay down more calcium (assuming there is also enough calcium in the diet). But grains contain phytic acid, which bind with minerals such as calcium, zinc, and iron and prevent their use by the body. 4 Dendougui, Ferial. Et al. “In vitro analysis of binding capacities of calcium to phytic acid in different food samples” European Food Research and Technology. 2004. p.219.
Studies have shown that increasing Vitamin D intake can partially offset the effect of phytic acid, but not totally.
It’s also possible the grains were exerting some other effect on the teeth beyond their phytic acid content, such as sticking more readily to them and causing more acid production via bacterial breakdown.
If someone already had cavities that had not yet started eating away at the root, and they wanted to try reversing the issue, they could consider making these changes:
1) Exposing yourself to sunshine and take 2,000 to 3,000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day. The study discussed used irradiated ergosterol (D2). It’s hard for me to read the table to figure out how much they were taking. It looks like it could be 2.5 g in diet 2 (vitamin D only) and 0.4 g in diet 3 (vitamin D and no grains). Irradiated ergosterol can range widely in IU per gram, sometimes going up to 20,000 IU per gram, so it’s not clear how much D the subjects were getting. Either way, it’s probably a very large dose of D2. However, modern safe intake guidelines generally suggest under 6,000 IU, with 2,000 to 3,000 IU usually considered sufficient for most situations. Research has found D3 to be a bit more effective than D2.
2) Remove all phytic-acid-rich foods from the diet. Besides grains, this also includes beans, seeds, and nuts. In my opinion, fruit is a far-more-ideal carbohydrate source than grains, but plenty of leafy green vegetables should be present to provide minerals. I outline my preferred dietary strategy fully in Raw Food Weight Loss And Vitality.
3) A minority of the population has trouble converting Vitamin K1 into Vitamin K2. If you’ve already had bone or teeth problems crop up, you may want to consider a K2 supplement for the reasons I outline in this article.
4) The study’s diet was not low fat, and eating some overtly fatty foods may help with fat-soluble vitamins such as K2 and Vitamin D. I personally like to get between 8 and 15% of my calories from fat. Avocados are a good source.
5) Try to hit the RDA from calcium, but certainly get at least 600 mg of calcium. Lack of calcium is a serious issue for vegans, despite what you may have heard, and it can lead to a greater risk of bone fracture.
6) Deficiencies in B Vitamins, particularly B12, are correlated with greater risk of bone fracture, and may play into teeth issues. If you don’t supplement, get regular blood work to ensure you’re not deficient.
Maintaining and Improving the Oral Health of Young Children; section on oral health. Pediatrics. Dec 2014, 134 (6) 1224-1229 ↩
Harrison, D.C., & Mellanby, E. Phytic acid and the rickets-producing action of cereals. Biochemical Journal. 1939. 33(10), 1660–1680.1.↩
Mellanby, May. Pattison, C. Lee. “Remarks on The Influence Of A Cereal-Free Diet Rich In Vitamin D And Calcium on Dental Caries In Children.” Br Med J. 1932 Mar 19; 1(3715): 507–510 ↩