Dental health is a common concern for people beginning with a raw food diet. Today I address a question from Elizabeth who is currently undertaking the Deep Tissue Cleanse and wants to make sure she is doing everything she can to keep her teeth healthy, while eating a high-fruit raw vegan diet.
I was looking at some information on the internet about tooth decay and fruitarian diets as a friend of mine recently warned me about this. I read information on both sides of the issue. I think what complicates this is the fact that everyone’s mouth bacteria levels are so different. My sister eats a regular SAD diet and has perfect teeth.
What can I do to protect my pearly whites? Only they’re not so pearly anymore. And half of them seem to be problematic.
When you start eating a raw food diet you might expect that the improvement in nutrition would also result in better dental health. Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple as there are many factors related to your diet and lifestyle that can potentially influence the condition of your teeth.
As you begin a more cleansing diet this will have a drawing effect on the lymphatic tissues, which can temporarily cause an increase in the amount of acids and toxins in the mouth. In those individuals who have an underlying weakness in this area the diet can expose this, resulting in an exacerbation of dental issues, such as gum infections and tooth abscesses.
The reason not everyone experiences these problems has to do with genetic constitution and the degree of obstruction and toxicity in the lymph nodes in the head region. This is also why one person can eat a terrible diet and have perfect teeth while another may struggle with dental issues even if they are much more careful.
In many people, the flare-up of dental problems while detoxing indicates a cleansing process, and often once this stage passes the teeth and gums return to a healthier state than before the detox. However, it is also important to be aware that there may be other things going on. Tooth problems while eating a raw food diet are not always related to detox and very often can be due to a variety of other preventable factors.
When many people switch to a raw food diet they go from eating three square meals to grazing throughout the day. The problem is that every time you eat this exposes your teeth to acids that result from the action of bacteria in your mouth. This increase in pH levels after meals can have the effect of demineralizing teeth, eventually leading to erosion.
Reducing your meal frequency allows the saliva to return to a more neutral pH. Under these conditions saliva is supersaturated with calcium and phosphate ions, which reduces the development of dental caries.
A common mistake with those beginning a raw food diet is an excessive consumption of dried fruits and other dehydrated foods. Dried fruits have a sticky texture and become embedded in the gaps between your teeth where they provide sugars to feed acid-producing bacteria. This creates an environment that increases the risk of cavity formation.
It is best to limit your intake of dried fruits and especially be careful of dehydrated treats that combine dried fruits, nuts and sweeteners. If you do eat these foods make sure you floss as soon as possible afterwards.
Unripe and Acidic Fruits
One of the major reasons why people have problems with their teeth on a raw food diet has to do with the consumption of unripe fruits. Unfortunately most commercially produced fruits are not allowed to fully ripen on the tree so they contain a higher amount of acid and a lower amount of minerals. As a consequence many people have difficulty accessing ripe fruit. Some fruits like banana, papaya and pears will ripen adequately, however this is not the case for many other varieties.
In addition – even when properly ripe – many fruits naturally have a high level of acidity. When these acids come into physical contact with the teeth this can result in dental erosion. This is not necessarily the same thing as the formation of dental caries, although the two do often present together. Dental erosion occurs when tooth enamel and eventually the dentin are worn down either through wear and tear or exposure to acids or other abrasive agents.
I personally experienced the negative effects of acids on my teeth when I began a raw food diet in Bali. At the time I was eating a high fruit diet including pineapples, mangosteens and limes. The pineapples in Bali tend to be very acidic, in contrast to the lovely, sweet ones in Costa Rica and Vietnam. The high pH in unripe and high acid fruits can wear away your enamel when they directly come into contact with your teeth.
After a while I began to notice an increase in tooth sensitivity, the destruction of enamel and my teeth began to become translucent around the edges. But it took me a while to realize that the acidic fruits were the primary cause of this. At the same time I also was eating a lot of dehydrated raw foods including raw cookies made from dates, raisins and nuts as well as dehydrated raw crackers. This combination really did lead to a significant decline in the condition of my teeth within quite a short period of time, so I do encourage you to take this information very seriously.
Protecting Your Teeth From Acids
Since I gained more awareness about how different raw foods can affect my teeth I am now much more careful with my intake of acid fruits. I advise anyone who is concerned about their teeth to do the same.
I recommend avoiding unripe fruit entirely and limiting your intake of acidic fruits such as pineapples, passionfruit, berries, grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, plums, kiwi fruit and apples. Another potential culprit is vinegar – which is a common ingredient in salad dressing – as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchee.
Biting down on acidic foods can make the effect even stronger so if you want to eat these fruits a smoothie or juice is the best choice. You can also minimize the exposure of your teeth to these acids by drinking your beverages through a straw.
While it might seem contrary avoid brushing your teeth after eating or drinking any acidic foods. The action from your toothbrush can increase the abrasive effects of fruit acids. It is best to wait a minimum of thirty minutes after consuming these foods before brushing your teeth.
Another remedy is to rinse your mouth with a solution of baking soda and water immediately after meals. Baking soda is very alkaline, which neutralizes the acids contained within foods as well as those produced by the bacteria in your mouth.
If you’ve already noticed some tooth erosion then it can be helpful to avoid all acidic fruits completely for a time. The safest fruits to eat in this situation include watermelon, cantaloupe and other melons, papaya, sweet grapes, super-ripe pears and banana.
The Importance of Natural Dental Hygiene
Some raw foodists have the idea that it isn’t necessary to pay as much attention to dental hygiene because raw foods naturally clean the teeth. As a child I remember being told that eating an apple or some celery stalks after a meal has this effect. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem as effective as we would hope it to be.
There is no substitute for good dental hygiene including adequate brushing and flossing. In fact it may be even more important when you start eating raw foods for the reasons already outlined.
A soft bristle brush is best because it limits the abrasive effect on enamel. Brush for at least two minutes in the morning and before you go to bed.
Your choice of toothpaste can also affect your dental health. Most health-conscious people avoid fluoride-based toothpastes due to its toxic effects. However, you may not be aware of another common ingredient – glycerine – that may potentially interfere with remineralization of tooth enamel. According to Dr. Gerald Judd, author of Good Teeth Birth to Death, glycerine creates a sticky coating on teeth that is very difficult to rinse away.
It isn’t easy to find glycerine-free toothpastes but Earthpaste is one product that you might like to try. This is the most natural toothpaste I have ever found and the ingredients are so gentle you can even swallow it safely. It consists of food grade clay, xylitol, sea salt and essential oils.
While I like Earthpaste, it doesn’t seem to leave my teeth feeling as clean as other brands, so I am going to try adding Peelu Dental Fibers into my routine. Peelu is a non-abrasive plant fiber that has been used for centuries by Indians, Africans, and Asians and is said to clean and brighten teeth without harming enamel or gums. I am yet to use it so I can’t offer my personal experience but many people have achieved very positive results, with a reduction in plaque build up and improved appearance of the teeth.
As a mouthwash I like to use extra-virgin coconut oil, which is naturally antibacterial. A technique called “oil-pulling” involves swishing the oil around your mouth for 15-20 minutes. This is said to assist with the removal of bacteria from the mouth and with consistency can result in an improvement in gum disease and the repair of tooth enamel. If you try this technique you should never swallow the oil – always spit it out – as you don’t want to ingest these bacteria.
Nutrition for Strong and Healthy Teeth
I always advise those with teeth and bone problems to include greens in their diet on a regular basis. Greens are your best bet as a source of minerals for enamel formation – including calcium. They are also extremely rich in vitamin K, another factor involved in mineralization.
Because vitamin K is fat-soluble its absorption from leafy greens can be enhanced when the meal contains a small amount of fat or oil. So I recommend a combination of green juices and dark leafy greens in salads or lightly cooked.
Vitamin D is also very important but your best way to ensure you have enough is by adequate sunlight exposure. The amount of time you need to spend in the sun to create enough vitamin D will vary according to your location, the season, the time of day and your skin type. Someone with fair skin requires about 15 minutes, with arms and legs exposed, three times a week in summer.
If you want more information about this subject you can read The Vitamin D Solution, which includes tables and formulas you can use to determine the amount of exposure you need year round.
During winter months, or if you are unable to get enough sunshine, it can be beneficial to take a potent vitamin D supplement such as Bio-D-Mulsion Forte.
Keeping Your Teeth Healthy
By following the steps outlined above you should be able to avoid any potential negative effects from a high-fruit raw food diet on your teeth. People eating raw foods probably spend more time chewing than those on any other kind of diet so it is really important to do all you can to keep your teeth healthy.