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    How Did Dental Caries Become So Prevalent?

    Many people from tribes that consume a hunter-gatherer diet have optimum dental health, which changes once they are introduced to modern foods.

    An interesting overview of dental caries, titled "Epidemiology of Dental Disease" from the University of Illinois, explains how cavity rates have changed drastically over the years.  This research is not entirely new as Dr. Weston Price discovered in the 1930’s that there are traditional populations who have lived free from cavities and tooth decay for generations. However, this University paper is another resource that highlights the role of diet and nutrition in dental health.

    According to the article, if we look back at dental health over the last several thousand years we find that:

    "During the first 4,000 years there is a gradual increase in caries prevalence ranging from 2 to 10 carious teeth per 100 teeth, followed by a sharp rise at about the year 1000 A.D. to 24 carious teeth per 100 for 3 out of 4 populations. The year 1000 A.D. is the approximate date for the introduction of sugar cane to the Western world . . .  Several studies have shown an increase in caries rate associated with the change from a hunter-gatherer diet with meat and low carbohydrate to a diet heavy with starch-rich cereal." (University of Illinois)

    What this article helps show is that before sugar and modern foods were introduced into the diet, many people did not have cavities or tooth decay. Dr.Weston Price discovered a similar phenomenon. He found that when tribes who had previously lived off a hunter-gatherer diet were introduced to a western or modern diet, their dental health would decline.

    While the beginning of the paper from the University of Illinois attributes cavities and tooth decay to bacteria, the true explanation for why dental caries and tooth decay occurs is explained by the introduction of sugar and processed foods into the diet. The problem with the type of diet that most people consume is that it contains high levels of white flour, sugar, and processed foods. When the body is supplied with certain foods, such as ones that are overly sweet or lack nutrients, it results in a disruption of the internal body chemistry and alters blood sugar levels. If the body is not supplied with fat-soluble vitamins, it can also result in a disruption of the internal body chemistry, as fat-soluble vitamins are essential for building healthy bones and teeth. This results in the body pulling calcium from the bones and teeth, which causes demineralization. The teeth can become weak or damaged, and may eventually decay or form cavities.

    If the body is supplied with nutrient-rich whole foods and sugary or processed foods are avoided, the body can begin to remineralize the teeth. A diet that contains the necessary nutrients and vitamins needed for healthy bone and tooth development is very similar to the hunter-gatherer diet of native tribes and the diet consumed before the introduction of sugar. Many of the same foods that were consumed by native tribes and those from ancient civilizations, such as meats and organs from grass-fed animals or wild caught fish, raw dairy products and vegetables, are all essential for maintaining optimum dental health.  Following a more paleo or traditional diet, along with reducing your sugar intake will allow you to take a bite out of your cavities!


    "Epidemiology of Dental Disease", University of Illinois, N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan 2012.

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