In exploring the link between teeth, our diet and our general health, I looked for foods that would satisfy four main objectives. Let’s call them the principles of good dental nutrition:
The Principles Of Good Dental Nutrition
1. Keep the jaw, face, and airways healthy and strong.
2. Give the mouth the nutrients it needs (with a focus on calcium balance and the fat-soluble vitamins).
3. Keep the microbiome balanced and diverse.
4. Eat foods with healthy epigenetic messages.
Now let’s talk about how the ‘dental diet’ specifically satisfies these principles.
1. Keep The Jaw, Face, And Airways Healthy And Strong
The jaw is a biomechanical joint that requires stimulation to develop properly and stay healthy and strong. The muscles, joints, and bones in the face form the support structure for your airways, so exercising your jaw also helps keep your airways healthy.
We’re meant to get our jaw exercise from chewing, one of the few ways to keep it strong and functioning properly (there aren’t a lot of exercise routines or machines at the gym designed for the mouth and jaw!). When we eat processed, mushy, or highly refined foods, we deny our jaw this exercise. The dental diet prioritizes hard, fibrous foods that require chewing, thereby developing the jaw throughout your adult life. These foods include:
- Whole raw vegetables
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Meat on the bone
- Chewy dried or cured meats
2. Give The Mouth The Nutrients It Needs.
In addition to helping the body use and distribute calcium, each fat-soluble vitamin plays several important roles in the body and is found in specific foods in nature.
Vitamin D is absolutely fundamental to our health. For starters, our digestive system needs it to absorb calcium from the food we eat—the calcium that our body uses to grow and strengthen our teeth and bones. Vitamin D is vital to countless other processes and organs, such as our metabolism, immune system, and even our brain function.
Our bodies are designed to synthesize vitamin D from the sun, so it’s ideal to get at least half an hour of sunlight during the middle hours of the day. This is when sunlight contains UVB rays, which trigger our skin to convert a prohormone (a sort of inactivated hormone) into vitamin D.
If you work indoors or you have health problems preventing you from getting outside, you may not be synthesizing enough vitamin D from sunlight. If you live in a place that’s higher than 37 degrees north latitude or lower than 37 degrees south, you probably won’t be able to get enough ultraviolet rays for your body to convert to vitamin D, no matter what you do. Since our modern environment isn’t the most conducive to receiving the necessary amount of vitamin D, most of us should try to obtain vitamin D from our diet.
The best sources of vitamin D are animal products, like fatty fish, liver, cheese, and egg yolks. In animals, vitamin D comes in a form that our bodies can use more efficiently. The form of D that comes in plants (vitamin D2) is harder for our bodies to process.
Vitamin A is important for your body to grow and repair itself. It supports a healthy immune system and also good eyesight. You may recognize that carrots are a good source of vitamin A. Like vitamin D, vitamin A that comes from plants needs to be converted into its active form to be used in the human body. Carotenoids—pigments that help turn plants red, yellow, and orange—are often confused with vitamin A. But our bodies actually have to convert them into retinol , the active form of vitamin A, before they can use them.
There are many things that help the body to convert vitamin A. For instance, cooking vegetables and fruits in fat helps. But as a rule, plant foods are a less potent source of vitamin A than animal foods.
I recommend that nearly all of my patients take cod liver oil after the biggest meal of the day. It’s a great source of vitamins D, A, and various essential fatty acids. Cod liver wraps them all up in one neat, metabolically available package.
**Make sure to read directions written on packages for food sources of vitamin A for the recommended daily limit. If you’re unsure about your needs, consult your doctor.**
Vitamin K2 is crucial for your bone and teeth health. It’s also important in making sure calcium stays out of your blood vessels. When animals consume vitamin K1, which is found in grass and green, leafy vegetables, their digestive system converts it into K2. This is another reason that grass-fed animals produce healthier meat than grain-fed animals. Eggs from pasture-raised chickens and butter from grass-fed cows are good sources of MK-4 vitamin K2. So is offal, shellfish, and emu oil.
MK-7 vitamin K2 is formed through the fermentation of bacteria, so fermented foods can be a good source of this type of vitamin K2. These foods include natto, sauerkraut, and cheeses like Gouda and brie.
**If you take warfarin, consult your doctor about your vitamin K intake. Dietary vitamin K can interfere with warfarin activity in the body.**
One of the biggest misconceptions about calcium is that, if someone’s bones become weak (as is the case in osteoporosis ), they need more calcium. As we’ve discussed, it’s more likely that they have enough calcium already but don’t have enough of the fat-soluble vitamins that let their bodies make use of it.
In some cases, calcium supplements (especially in the form of calcium carbonate) have been found to have little impact on bone density and may even be harmful to our health. It’s best to consume calcium in its biologically absorbable forms, including dairy, green vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens), almonds, whole fish, and soups with meat cooked on the bone.
3. Keep The Microbiome Balanced And Diverse.
To a large degree, your overall health depends on the health of the microbiome in your mouth and gut . It needs a balance of “good” slow-metabolising bacteria and “bad” fast-metabolising bacteria.
When you sit down to eat a meal, be aware that you’re now feeding the trillions of microbes inside of you. These thriving organisms depend on the food you put in your mouth for their survival, so the fate of that balance is in your hands (or at least on your fork).
To keep everyone happy, you need to consume a balance of foods that contains probiotics and prebiotics .
If there’s anything about food that traditional societies had a better appreciation of than we do, it was the relationship between the microbes in their food and the microbes in their bodies.
Traditional societies had to preserve their foods, and fermentation was an effective way of doing so. These fermented foods were carefully cultured with live microbes that both replenished and reinvigorated the good bacteria in the gut.
Every meal should both feed and replenish microbes in order to keep them thriving and diverse, which keeps the harmful ones from taking over. It sounds strange, but when you eat, you should ask yourself, “Am I eating microbes in this meal?”
The word ‘prebiotics’ refers to any food ingredient that feeds the bacteria in our gut. In a testament to how important prebiotics are, human breast milk is full of prebiotic factors that are crucial in establishing a baby’s gut flora and digesting the milk itself.
Prebiotics are mainly found in fibre . Broadly, fibre is complex carbohydrates that our digestive system doesn’t break down itself but uses to feed the microbes that live within our mouth and digestive system. Only plant foods contain fibre.
Science generally divides dietary fibre into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, while insoluble fibre does not. In the body, insoluble fibre is generally recognized as giving our stool “bulk.” But it’s more likely that its real role is feeding many different types of microbes in the digestive system that we haven’t yet characterized.
The human microbiome is hugely diverse, and we’re really just beginning to learn about the impact that different types of fibre have on it. But one thing is already clear: To have a healthy microbiome, you need to eat a lot of fibre, and most people certainly don’t eat enough.
4. Eat Food With Healthy Epigenetic Messages
Each of your genes can be expressed in a staggering number of ways. Epigenetic messages determine how they’re expressed. The healthier those messages are, the healthier your cells, organs, and ultimately your genes will be.
The food you eat contains not just nutrients that you absorb, but the collective epigenetic messages that eventually shape your gut bacteria , immune system, metabolism, and hormones as well. As you digest food, a flood of nutrients and bacteria move through your body; they interact with each other and trigger epigenetic messages that eventually flow down to your genes.
At the simplest level, the presence of a certain nutrient will methylate your DNA, or turn certain genes on, while the absence of another nutrient will switch certain genes off. These messages affect how our bodies operate. Methylation or lack of it may result in long-term weight gain, for instance, or increase the insulin resistance of a cell, or affect certain neurological functions.
The fat-soluble vitamins are central to gene regulation, and their presence is one of the most powerful and positive epigenetic messages we can send to our bodies. But nutrients alone don’t influence our epigenetic messages.
Every meal is an opportunity to make sure your microbiome and your genes are getting the right messages from your food
The foods we eat have their own microbiomes, and their bacterial balance is tied up in an intimate lattice with their own genes. This epigenetic fingerprint is shaped by how the food is raised (if it’s an animal) or grown (if it’s a plant). When we eat food, its epigenetic fingerprint speaks to our own microbiome, which responds to the messages it holds, and eventually relays messages to our own genes. It’s an intimate and complex conversation.
Scientists are only just beginning to understand the relationship between microbes and genes. A recent study has demonstrated that short-chain fatty acids have the ability to directly alter DNA by way of epigenetic messaging. You’ll remember that these fatty acids are produced by bacteria in the stomach when we eat fermentable fibres, establishing a direct relationship between food, microbes, and your genes.
Your health, in part, is a response to all those messages. One wrong message might result in a hole in your tooth or lead to an autoimmune disease. Chronic diseases are a result of eating foods that ruin our epigenetic fingerprint. It’s important to remember that every meal is an opportunity to make sure your microbiome and your genes are getting the right epigenetic messages from your food.
Extracted from the The Dental Diet by Dr Steven Lin (Hay House UK), £14.99, buy online
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