As I mentioned in the follow-up sequence in the director’s cut of Fat Head, my girls have never had a single cavity. To encourage them to keep that streak going, I made a deal with them a couple of years ago: if you get to age 16 without a cavity, Daddy will contribute $1,000 to your “I want my own car” fund. (Then Daddy will endure some sleepless nights when they start driving.)
Sadly, cavity-free kids seem to be increasingly rare. Both of my daughters told me they have classmates who’ve already had several cavities. Alana has a classmate who has already had 10 of them – at age 7. I wondered if kids are developing more cavities these days, or if I’m just paying more attention now because I’m a dad.
Turns out kids really are developing more cavities, according to an online article with the headline Pediatric Cavities Reach An All-Time High:
In a swift-stepping society, more meals are being consumed on the move, quick bites taken on the run and fruits eaten on the fly. That translates to fast food, snack food and inordinate amounts of sugar intake, resulting in an increase in pediatric cavities that is at an all-time high, according to the N.C. Dental Society.
The research is confirmed by dentist Dr. Jerry Laws, who has practiced in Lexington since 1977.
“We are seeing that more than we used to. There are several causes, and it is preventable.”
In a press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 28 percent of preschoolers in the U.S. experience decay in primary or “baby teeth.” And for the first time in four decades the number is increasing. Currently, among children 2 to 5 years old, one in five has untreated cavities.
“There are several causes (of rapid tooth decay),” Laws says, and points out that most relate to contemporary diets. “Also, children are going to bed with sippy cups. Another thing is bottled water, which doesn’t have fluoride. Children should at least have some water from the tap, which is fluoridated.”
The economy also plays a role in tooth decay, Laws said. “A lack of insurance is a reason. Some people are out of work and without insurance, and some have to put off visits to the dentist … something that can’t be helped.”
A lack of insurance would explain why some kids end up with untreated cavities. It doesn’t explain why they’re developing those cavities in the first place. Our Paleolithic ancestors apparently had good teeth (more on that shortly), and they rarely purchased dental insurance.
By pure coincidence, I had a conversation with a co-worker today who speculated that he had a lot of cavities as a kid because his family’s water supply (a well) wasn’t fluoridated. Okay, yes, that may figure into it. But again, our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t put fluoride in their streams and springs. Fluoride is, if anything, protection against dental decay that shouldn’t develop in the first place.
I agree with the writer of the article that sugar intake is the likely culprit for the rise in pediatric cavities over the last few decades, but I know from personal experience that it’s possible to develop cavities on a sugar-free diet. During my vegetarian days, I didn’t consume sugar – I was, after all, a health-conscious vegetarian, and I knew sugar was bad news. Nonetheless, I continued to develop the occasional cavity and ended up experiencing the joys of a gum graft (ouch) when my gums receded.
I didn’t eat sugar, but I did eat plenty of hearthealthywholegrains, which, according to a recent study, are probably a big part of the reason humans began developing cavities in the first place:
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living on a meat-dominated, grain-free diet had much healthier mouths that we have today, with almost no cavities and gum disease-associated bacteria, a genetic study of ancient dental plaque has revealed.
The researchers extracted DNA from dental plaque from 34 prehistoric northern European human skeletons, and traced the changes in the nature of oral bacteria from the last hunter-gatherers to Neolithic and medieval farmers and modern individuals.
“Dental plaque represents the only easily accessible source of preserved human bacteria,” says lead author Dr Christina Adler, now associate lecturer in dentistry at the University of Sydney.
The researchers found the composition of bacteria changed with the introduction of farming and again 150 years ago during the Industrial Revolution.
In contrast to the hunter-gatherer and early agriculturist diet, a modern diet full of refined carbohydrates and sugars has given us mouths dominated by cavity-causing bacteria.
Setting aside the desire for a photogenic smile, poor dental health is often a reflection of poor health in general. (It was a decline in dental health among his patients over the years that inspired Dr. Weston A. Price to travel the world and compare the health effects of traditional diets vs. modern diets.) It’s a bit silly to believe that hearthealthywholegrains are protecting our cardiovascular systems even as they’re ruining our teeth. Yet that’s what the experts have been telling us for decades.
The results will no doubt be good news for advocates of the so-called ‘paleolithic diet’ – high in meat, low in grains.
Yup, we’re smiling at the news. I haven’t had a cavity in years now. I also haven’t had a cold sore, canker sore, or any other kind of mouth sore. Same goes for Chareva and the girls. The girls also seem to be developing nice, wide jaws. They may avoid needing braces, even though Chareva and I both had them.
I’m looking forward to forking over those $1,000 contributions.
Look, Ma, no cavities!