It’s no secret that our modern diet is generally not a healthy one — filled with processed foods, high sugar content and lots of fat. We know it contributes to thick waistline and other health problems, but what does it do to the teeth?
Dentists, evolutionary biologists and food scientists recently gathered together at a recent conference in Durham, N.C., called “Evolution of Human Teeth and Jaws: Implications for Dentistry and Orthodontics.” The group essentially agreed that today’s modern diet of mushy foods — a far cry from the meat and plant diet during cavemen times — is what causes increased risk of cavities, misaligned teeth and tooth overcrowding.
These opinions were based on research into ancient teeth and jaws, as well as those or hunter-gatherer populations from as recently as the 1950s. The types of diets these men and women ate kept the jaws constantly working and the teeth grinding and chewing. Most traditional foragers, even the Australian aborigines in the 1940s, have very few cavities except for some whose diets are rich in plant carbohydrates, such as potatoes.
It is important to note that sugar is the real enemy. Dental health in the Western world started to deteriorate after the arrival of sugar in the United Kingdom at the start of the 19th century. There was a resurgence in cavities again in the United states during the 1980s with the introduction of refined sugars in processed foods, such as high fructose corn syrup in soda. There is a rise in dietary sugar, diabetes and a more sedentary lifestyle — none of which is good for oral health. Maybe it’s a good thing evolution is not keeping up with our fast-changing culture — the scientists at the recent conference made the shocking statement that these days, if it weren’t for aesthetics and speech, we probably would no longer need our teeth to survive!
So how do you keep your teeth healthy without having to eat like a caveman (or cavewoman)? At Enlighten Dentistry, our feeling is that if you can buy a food in the produce section, and it is unaltered, it is most likely a very safe food for your teeth. Of course, citrus fruit in very large quantities can be harmful, but fruit as a snack is better than anything on the chips, crackers and cookies aisle at the grocery store.
We also tell our patients that the key is everything in moderation. If you drink eight glasses of water a day, that is healthy. If you drink eight gallons a day, you’ll drown. A little soda on special occasions is acceptable. Multiple sodas a day in between meals is a recipe for dental disaster.
Use your good judgment. That’s what the cavemen did!