Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reversing Tooth Decay

In the last post, I discussed the research of Drs. Edward and May Mellanby on the nutritional factors affecting tooth formation. Dr. Mellanby is the man who discovered vitamin D and identified the cause of rickets. Nutrition has a profound effect on tooth structure, and well-formed teeth are inherently resistant to decay. But is there anything you can do if your teeth are already formed?

Teeth are able to heal themselves. That's one reason why traditional cultures such as the Inuit can wear their teeth down to the pulp due to chewing leather and sand-covered dried fish, yet still have an exceptionally low rate of tooth decay. It's also how the African Wakamba tribe could traditionally file their front teeth into sharp points without causing decay. Both cultures lost their resistance to tooth decay after adopting nutrient-poor Western foods such as white flour and sugar.

Teeth are made of four layers.
Enamel is the hardest, most mineralized outer shell. Dentin is another protective mineralized layer that's below the enamel. Below the dentin is the pulp, which contains blood vessels and nerves. The roots are coated with cementum, another mineralized tissue.

When enamel is poorly formed and/or the diet isn't adequate, enamel demineralizes and decay sets in. Tooth decay is an opportunistic infection that takes advantage of poorly developed or maintained teeth. If the diet remains inadequate, the tooth has to be filled or removed, or the person risks more serious complications.

Fortunately, a decaying or broken tooth has the ability to heal itself if the diet is good, including by remineralizing enamel and dentin, and/or forming a limited quantity of new dentin. This new dentin is deposited by specialized cells called odontoblasts. Here's what Dr. Edward Mellanby had to say about his wife's research on the subject. This is taken from Nutrition and Disease:
Since the days of John Hunter it has been known that when the enamel and dentine are injured by attrition or caries, teeth do not remain passive but respond to the injury by producing a reaction of the odontoblasts in the dental pulp in an area generally corresponding to the damaged tissue and resulting in a laying down of what is known as secondary dentine. In 1922 M. Mellanby proceeded to investigate this phenomenon under varying nutritional conditions and found that she could control the secondary dentine laid down in the teeth of animals as a reaction to attrition both in quality and quantity, independently of the original structure of the tooth. Thus, when a diet of high calci­fying qualities, ie., one rich in vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus was given to the dogs during the period of attrition, the new secondary dentine laid down was abundant and well formed whether the original structure of the teeth was good or bad. On the other hand, a diet rich in cereals and poor in vitamin D resulted in the production of secondary dentine either small in amount or poorly calcified, and this happened even if the primary dentine was well formed.
Thus, in dogs, the factors that affect tooth healing are the same factors that affect tooth development:

  1. The mineral content of the diet, particularly calcium and phosphorus
  2. The fat-soluble vitamin content of the diet, chiefly vitamin D
  3. The availability of minerals for absorption, determined largely by the diet's phytic acid content (prevents mineral absorption)
What about humans? Drs. Mellanby set out to see if they could use their dietary principles to cure tooth decay that was already established. They divided 62 children with cavities into three different diet groups for 6 months. Group 1 ate their normal diet plus oatmeal (rich in phytic acid). Group 2 ate their normal diet plus vitamin D. Group 3 ate a grain-free diet and took vitamin D.

In group 1, oatmeal prevented healing and encouraged new cavities, presumably due to its ability to prevent mineral absorption. In group 2, simply adding vitamin D to the diet caused most cavities to heal and fewer to form. The most striking effect was in group 3, the group eating a grain-free diet plus vitamin D, in which nearly all cavities healed and very few new cavities developed. Grains are the main source of phytic acid in the modern diet, although we can't rule out the possibility that grains were promoting tooth decay through another mechanism as well.

Dr. Mellanby was quick to point out that diet 3 contained some carbohydrate (~45% reduction) and was not low in sugar: "Although [diet 3] contained no bread, porridge or other cereals, it included a moderate amount of carbohydrates, for plenty of milk, jam, sugar, potatoes and vegetables were eaten by this group of children." This study was published in the British Medical Journal (1) and
the British Dental journal. Here's Dr. Edward Mellanby again:
The hardening of carious areas that takes place in the teeth of children fed on diets of high calcifying value indicates the arrest of the active process and may result in “healing” of the infected area. As might be surmised, this phenomenon is accompanied by a laying down of a thick barrier of well-formed secondary denture... Summing up these results it will be clear that the clinical deductions made on the basis of the animal experiments have been justified, and that it is now known how to diminish the spread of caries and even to stop the active carious process in many affected teeth.
Dr. Mellanby first began publishing studies showing the reversal of cavities in humans using diet in 1924. Why has such a major medical finding, published in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, faded into obscurity?

Dr. Weston Price also had success curing tooth decay using a similar diet. He fed poor children one very nutritious meal a day and monitored their dental health. From Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (p. 290):

About four ounces of tomato juice or orange juice and a teaspoonful of a mixture of equal parts of a very high vitamin natural cod liver oil and an especially high vitamin butter was given at the beginning of the meal. They then received a bowl containing approximately a pint of a very rich vegetable and meat stew, made largely from bone marrow and fine cuts of tender meat: the meat was usually broiled separately to retain its juice and then chopped very fine and added to the bone marrow meat soup which always contained finely chopped vegetables and plenty of very yellow carrots; for the next course they had cooked fruit, with very little sweetening, and rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat, which were spread with the high-vitamin butter. The wheat for the rolls was ground fresh every day in a motor driven coffee mill. Each child was also given two glasses of fresh whole milk. The menu was varied from day to day by substituting for the meat stew, fish chowder or organs of animals.
Dr. Price provides before and after X-rays showing re-calcification of cavity-ridden teeth on this program. His intervention was not exactly the same as Drs. Mellanby, but it was similar in many ways. Both diets were high in minerals, rich in fat-soluble vitamins (including D), and low in phytic acid.

Price's diet was not grain-free, but used rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat. Freshly ground whole wheat has a high phytase (the enzyme that degrades phytic acid) activity, thus in conjunction with the long yeast rises common in Price's time, it would have broken down nearly all of its own phytic acid. This would have made it a source of minerals rather than a sink for them. He also used high-vitamin pastured butter in conjunction with cod liver oil. We now know that the vitamin K2 in pastured butter is important for bone and tooth development and maintenance. This was something that Dr. Mellanby did not understand at the time, but modern research has corroborated Price's finding that K2 is synergistic with vitamin D in promoting skeletal and dental health.

If I were to design the ultimate dietary program to heal cavities that incorporates the successes of both doctors, it would look something like this:

  • Rich in animal foods, particularly full-fat pastured dairy products (if tolerated) and bone broths. Also meat, organs, fish, and eggs.
  • Fermented grains only; no unfermented grains such as oatmeal, breakfast cereal, crackers, etc. No breads except true sourdough (ingredients should not list lactic acid). Or even better, no grains at all.
  • Limited nuts; beans in moderation, only if they're soaked overnight or longer prior to cooking (due to the phytic acid).
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.
  • A limited quantity of fruit (one piece per day or less), but no refined sweets.
  • Cooked and raw vegetables.
  • Sunlight, high-vitamin cod liver oil, or vitamin D3 supplements.
  • Pastured butter.
  • No industrially processed food.
This diet would maximize mineral absorption while providing abundant fat-soluble vitamins. It probably isn't necessary to follow it strictly. For example, if you eat more mineral-rich foods such as dairy and bone broths, you can probably get away with more phytic acid. Or you might be able to heal cavities eating like this for only one or two meals a day, as Dr. Price demonstrated. 

This post is focused on diet, but obviously oral hygiene also matters.  Brushing your teeth, flossing, and rinsing your mouth out after meals will also reduce dental risks.  

The technique described above is applicable to early-stage, small cavities, not necessarily to advanced decay.  If you try to heal your own cavities using diet, please do it under the supervision of a dentist.  


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Marvin said...

Hi there,

I have remineralized my tooth and have posted picture evidence as well on my blog site -

What I did was mostly take supplements and drink water.

I'm glad that I have picture evidence (I've taken more than 140 photos of my teeth so far).

Unknown said...

I saw an old post where someone asked if they could buy Phytase. Some digestive enzymes contain it but be sure to look at the activity ratings.

One I know of that contains it is ''Now Digest Ultimate''. Countrylife does one that contains it as well.

Unknown said...

Anacardic compounds in cashew nuts and maybe mangoes do an excellent job of curing an abscess from gram positive bacteria, which are the most prevalent cause of tooth decay and tooth aches. It is conceivable that mango fruits may have sufficient anacardic acids as well. You may see my article on this subject at; . It is also discussed briefly in the 2006 edition of Medical Hypotheses, 65; 289-292.
You may feel free to use any information in that URL without concern over copyright.
I would like to urge you to explore making these medicines available in the pure form from pharmacies. This would be especially valuable since these medicines would probably prove to be valuable against other gram positive diseases such as acne, leprosy, streptococci, Chlamydia trachomatis, and maybe even tuberculosis as well.
Sincerely, Charles Weber

Unknown said...

Well modern day white breads are bad for you because its taken alot of the nutrients out and replaced it with stuff that's worst go look for sprouted grain breads because white breads have sugar and yeast in them a very bad combination. Also dont believe everything because the content especially from such old books like the bible could of been altered when it gets a updated look. and replace your cereal all of it with a sprouted breakfast and since they are sprouted they have the bran which is a med level in nutrients the endosperm which is mostly fiber i believe and the germ which is where a very heavy amount of nutrients are located.

Muchacha en la ventana said...

I have posted here in 2008 -2009 and felt like I owe an update since it helped me and my daughter so much.When my daughter (wss 2 years old back then ) with 7-8 tooth decays I came across to this site and changed her diet right away.After 6 months we went to Turkey and I found a really SIMPLE pediatric dentist over there and she said that My daughter need only 2 fillings and id it without any tear and shot. Now she is 8 years old never had any cavity issues since then.The same with me .I haven't seen any dentist las 4 years last week I went to get my teeth cleaned and the dentist said I am in a great condition.No cavity,nu gum issue and big cleaning required either.What we did basicly .I always used pastured butter for K2( Kerrygold),Cold liver oil as a supplement,all nuts and oat meal soaked,I recently discovered and Calcium and taking it as an supplement.
They all helped me and my dauughter to keep our dental health in track i think.Recently my daughter decided to be vegetarion because of the ethical reasons and we too. We still get good quality of omega 3 with 3000 mg fatty oil.

I am so glad that I didn't let dentists to put my daughter to sleep at the age of 2 and fill her 8 teeth( out of 12 at that time).There are all gone and she has very healthy teeth now.

Jessica Sharp said...

No white bread because it's a refined sugar. Your body turns white breads into glucose to digest them. So white breads = sugar! Hope that makes sense!

Juanita Swindell said...

This is one of the most comprehensive articles I’ve read on tooth decay. What I found particularly interesting and useful was the ‘ultimate dietary program. It’s something that had not crossed my mind before and I can see how not knowing can create huge problems in itself. It is so much easier, cheaper and less painful to watch what you eat and maintain a ‘tooth-friendly’ diet rather than eat a harmful diet, have decayed teeth and go to the dentist to rectify the problem. Preventing Tooth Decay

Unknown said...

Did your son end up getting his teeth caped? If so how did that go? or Did u end up giving him d3? Did that help?Your reply will be greatly appreciated.

Unknown said...

in a book I read based on these studies, it mentioned pureed soups, after boiling the vegetable you should use the actual water they were boiled in to puree them ecause some of the neutrients have escaped the vegetable into the water. if you cool your veggies I would use as little water as possible then keep it, if not to use in the above mentioned way, then to use in other portions of the meal, anything that would require you to add water. hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Can you tell me if if you make other nutritional changes than supplementing with D3 and K ?

Unknown said...

What is your diet like ?

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