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!

62 Responses to “Modern Foods and Cavities”
  1. Marilyn says:

    @SueD. I think the major issue with sea salt is, as you mentioned, that people are so salt-phobic that they aren’t eating enough of it. Natural sea salt does have iodine plus a lot of other minerals. I think my multivitamin also has iodine. If there’s a problem of deficiency, it’s probably because — as in the case of fat — people have been given bogus information about what is healthful.

  2. Sally Myles says:

    The fact that this way of eating is good for teeth is no news to me. My son aged eight has great teeth, and as for his eyes, they were better (ie 20/20 vision) than his previous exam the year before when he showed early signs of myopia. His friend, vegetarian like his mother, has several fillings at the same age. Our Dentist tells me that Anthony’s teeth are very clean too, despite me having trouble getting him to brush them. Preaching to the choir here…….

    No worries. We’ll sing along.

  3. cTo says:

    “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 was literally thinking about this JUST this morning.

    I think a big thing besides just the amounts of refined sugars in the diet is A) the amount of calcium in the diet, and 2) our body’s ability to absorb and use that calcium where it’s needed, which depends on proper vitamins, which is a lot of the basis for the whole WAP approach I believe.


  4. Becky says:

    My oldest daughter (10) is the only one of my children to develop those tooth eating buggers thus far. She had exactly two. Both directly under the anchors for her braces on her back teeth, which was absolutely not a shock to her orthodontist.

    On the braces note, my two older girls (who had to suffer the ill-effects of my SAD days while in utero) have very narrow jaws – that sleek, delicate jawline that while popular in Hollywood is also popular with braces. Their baby teeth were always quite crowded. My younger two children – who got the benefit of my switch to Paleo – have nice wide jaws and “gappy” baby teeth. Coincidence? Possibly, but I think there’s a least a dash of causation in there.

    I think so too. I ended up with teeth behind other teeth, both top and bottom. The orthodontist pulled four teeth before installing the braces. So far Sara and Alana both have little gaps between their teeth.

  5. SB says:

    Interesting, wish I’d looked this sort of info up last year when I had an unexpected mouthful of cavities and fillings (eating reasonably LC, but had been drinking a cup of coffee w/ cream n sugar every morning at work, post brushing teeth). Now my vitamin K2 is in the mail…we’ll see how it works, and I’ll report back (in a couple of weeks, when everyone else has moved on to another post 🙂 ).

  6. Cameron H says:

    @cTo, Chances are his well water has just as much fluoride in it as municipal sources.

    Also, I was reading some articles over at and the good doctor had several pictures of old skulls. I took a good look and saw signs of mottling on the teeth. Which is related to high fluorine intake.

  7. Kate says:

    I seem to have inherited my dad’s teeth: clean, few cavities, and a bane to dentists everywhere. I haven’t had a cavity since I turned 12, and only a few before then. I haven’t been to a dentist in 17 years since I’ve had zero problems with my teeth. I brush very often and floss a few times a week.

    In unrelated news, a friend’s husband just had an early heart attack and is getting all of the terrible, soul and body killing dietary advice from the experts. She is going to follow it because she is scared. (I’m scared, too. He is very young!) She’s been telling me for months that my diet is terrible and going to kill me. I guess it’s just my genetics that have saved me from high blood pressure, gall bladder, and reproductive problems…

    Sorry to hear about your friend’s husband. Let’s hope the expert advice doesn’t make his condition worse.

  8. miasma says:

    i’m not sure if it has to do with food so much. i’ve always had good teeth and alot of my friends lost their first teeth in kindergarten already. i’m 26 now and i have never had a single hole in my teeth even though i have to admit i had some times in my life when i didn’t brush them regularly at night (mostly as a teenager when i was too lazy). still i ate a lot of garbage and junk and i know people who rarely do and still have bad teeth.

    I think it has a lot to do with food, but some people are resistant to the effects of bad food.

  9. Kate says:

    I’ve had a chipped front tooth since age 6 that, despite 2 restorations with caps, has always been very sensitive to hot and cold food/beverages. Since going paleo a few years ago, I’ve noticed that the tooth has stopped bothering me, which is a great bonus among the other improvements in health that I’ve noticed. Of course, when I mentioned the improvement to my dentist & hypothesized that it might be related to diet, he was dubious…

    Of course he was dubious. If he wasn’t taught something in school, it must not be true.

  10. Dea Roberts says:

    Paying them not to drive is also an option. I had every intention of doing this with my son, but fortunately for various reasons it hasn’t turned out to be needed. The example story I heard many years ago was a deal of $5000 if the kid didn’t drive until they were 21. Oh, and no cavities, either.

    That seems a bit drastic, especially since we live in the sticks.

  11. MITBeta says:

    I read in The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo that some research suggests bacteria in the gums may be associated with heart disease as well.

    They are associated; the question is whether there’s any cause and effect going on.

  12. Tricia says:

    I recently had my teeth cleaned and my hygientist said if all mouths were like mine, her job would be easy. The only scraping she did was to remove some coffee stains from the front teeth. She and the dentist both commented on my “home care” and how great it was. I didn’t bleed at all, a first for me and only since I got serious about cutting out grains. Guess what? My home care stinks according to what’s recommended by my dentist. I brush once before bed and rarely floss. And even though I do brush, I never feel that “film” on my teeth. Guess I’ll keep taking the compliment and doing what I’m doing since it’s working out.

    A lot what’s recommended for dental care is probably based on what necessary for a grain-filled diet.

Leave a Reply