Time and time again we hear dire warnings of the perils of the high-fruit diet - usually from those selling supplements, powdered 'food' and cacao products (and who are usually on high raw rather than raw food diets anyway). I've debunked most of these in previous articles (see Archives Feb/Mar 2009 'Fool for Fruit' trilogy), but one topic I've held back on until now is teeth. Partly because I wanted to give myself a little longer on the high-fruit diet, just to see if any of these awful things we're told will happen - cavities, disappearing enamel etc - happen to me.
Well, they haven't. And, if they had done I would have run from the high-fruit diet very fast I can assure you!
So, let's start with a pic (taken today) of my own gnashers, after three years of raw, and the last eighteen months of them on a high-fruit diet. Sorry it's not bigger - I can't see how on my basic version of 'blogger' how to enlarge this cropped pic, but I'm sure some of you will be able to look more closely (IF you desire...!).
As I hope you can see, they're not perfect. I have a little gum recession, but my dentist and hygienist will testify that this occurred before raw. In fact, the reason for the recession above my front canines is that, when cooked, I used to suffer from hayfever and I'd found over the years that pressing my nail on my gum would stop me sneezing. Unfortunately, that had a bad effect on my gums over time but the upside is that, since raw - no hayfever! In my first couple of months of raw, I did notice a little recession on other teeth, but Jill (my dentist) suggested that this had been previously masked by swelling caused by inflammation (on my cooked diet). So when my diet improved, the swelling went down, exposing the recession. But from that point on my gum health improved - amazingly! When cooked, my gums would bleed almost daily - perhaps 200+ times a year? On raw, I think I've seen spots of blood three times in three years.
You'll see a little grey in the corners, from amalgam (mercury) fillings remaining from a childhood of sweet (candy) eating. The lower (visible) halves of my teeth are not completely opaque, but they've always been like that.
I've had no caps/crowns and my teeth are not bleached. The only dental work I've had done since going raw is the replacement of amalgam fillings (that my dentist said were 'raggedy')with white fillings.
I brush my teeth twice a day, morning and evening, brush additionally 30-60 minutes after eating any sticky food, such as dates, and floss each morning. At my check-up a few weeks ago, I was told I had a little plaque build-up on the inner surfaces of my top front teeth, where I've been remiss in brushing.
I follow a raw vegan, high-fruit, unsupplemented diet. 60-70% is fruit, 15-20% fat (eg nuts and seeds) and the rest vegetables including lots of greens. Key thing is that, since raw, my teeth, and gums, have improved, and there has been no deterioration on a high-fruit diet.
At the check-up I asked Jill the dentist, and the hygienist (also called Jill) these questions:
1. How would you describe the state of my teeth and gums now as compared with a few years ago? (Before raw.)
Both Jills said there had been a big improvement ('much better!').
2. How would you rate the state of my teeth and gums compared with that of the average 51-year-old?
Both Jills - 'good!'
So what's going on? According to some 'experts' who say the high-fruit diet is a recipe for disaster for teeth, I should have had cavities, erosion of enamel, 'transparent' teeth even! (Heard this one recently from someone influential in the raw food world talking of 'someone they knew' who had experienced this!)
It does seem to me that those warning that the high fruit diet is bad for teeth are basing these warnings on the most unscientific of evidence, on claims from 'someone I know' or 'I've heard that...' rather than considering that the vast majority of those on a high fruit diet are not having such problems. In fact, those with the longest experience and, to my mind, greatest knowledge of raw food nutrition, such as Dr Doug Graham, say that tooth problems should no more be a feature of the high-fruit diet than any other kind of raw food diet.
I certainly meet, at raw events, raw fooders (on all sorts of raw food diet) with grotty teeth. I suspect their teeth looked that way before raw, but don't like to ask... However, it's true that some on raw food diets (all sorts of raw food diet) do experience teeth problems after going raw. These are a minority, but it's clear that some raw fooders do have 'teeth issues' on raw.
In this article, I'm going to suggest reasons why some raw fooders do develop problems with their teeth, and what steps we can take to minimise the chances of these occurring and instead see our teeth improving on the raw food diet.
It's a collation/summary of material I've collected over the last three years, filtered by my unique bias, ie I prefer the high-fruit brand of raw food diet. But do bear in mind that those who put so much effort into giving raw fooders the heebie-jeebies about fruit have their own biases...
There are three sorts of raw food diet that will raise the chances of tooth problems occurring:
1. THE 'TRANSITION FOOD' (OR 'RAWGOURMET') DIET
This is often high in:
Processed sugar (eg agave syrup). There's lots of disagreement amongst dentists as to what causes cavities, but there is consensus on one thing: refined sugar consumption.
Dried fruit (eg mixed with nuts in crusts). Dried fruit sticks to the teeth.
Nuts and seeds. Regular readers will know I do like my nuts and seeds! However, rawgourmet food (burgers, cakes, crackers etc) is generally a little too high in these foods, which stick to our teeth and get wedged between them.
Apple cider vinegar. This is concentrated acid, just like any other vinegar, so will attack enamel.
In my first few months of raw, when I had lots of fun making 'rawgourmet' concoctions I found myself eating far more 'sticky' foods than I ever had when cooked. Although this period doesn't appear to have harmed my teeth, I think if I'd continued eating this sort of food regularly it might have done, and can imagine it would be quite likely to cause problems in those predisposed to tooth problems (as some believe 'genetic inheritance' has a role to play).
2. A HIGH-FRUIT 'GRAZING' DIET
Jill the hygienist is fine with my high-fruit diet, but warns that teeth will be happy with fruit as long as it's eaten as 'meals', that is in a relatively large quantity at one sitting, rather than nibbling constantly. Her words were, 'if you're going to eat fruit, eat the fruit bowl.' I think we know what she means, and her advice is right in line with that of high-fruit advocates who also generally advise eating fruit 'as a meal', and, most importantly, eating sufficient so that we don't need to eat again for a few hours, thereby giving our digestive systems and teeth a well-needed rest, giving them time to cope with the food, to do what they need to do to restore the physiological status quo and not beleaguer them with another onslaught too soon.
3. A HIGH-FRUIT DIET HIGH IN CITRUS FRUITS
Citrus fruit is great occasionally, and here's where 'instinctive eating' can help us decide just how much citrus is right and how much is too much. If we are very attracted to oranges, then we should eat them. I remember in Spring 2008 oranges tasted the most delicious fruit to me, and, as I can take them or leave them now, have concluded that, at that time, my body very much needed what oranges gave it. But unfortunately it's more often the case that a raw fooder eating lots of oranges isn't desiring them particularly, but eating them dutifully because someone else has told him 'they're good for us', or because he has a glut of oranges, or because they're cheap, or has been persuaded by someone that he should go on an 'orange juice diet' for cleansing.
Citrus is very hard on enamel and I have seen sufficient reports of those on high-citrus diets running into tooth problems to persuade me that high citrus is in general not the way to go. I remember using lemon juice daily in salads in my first few months of raw, and my teeth were sensitive and ached a little. I can't be sure that the one resulted in the other, as I have seen a plausible suggestion that when gum inflammation reduces, teeth can shift position a little and ache. However, I did reduce my consumption of lemon juice and the problems stopped.
THE RAW FOOD DIET THAT SHOULDN'T RESULT IN TEETH PROBLEMS
A diet of simple, whole, fresh foods. Lots of fruit fine (but not too much citrus). Vegetables, particularly high-alkaline veg such as celery and spinach for neutralising acids in the mouth. A small amount of nuts and/or seeds if desired. Food to be taken in two or three meals a day, and tooth care assiduous, as below.
Do animals clean their teeth?
Well, not in the way we do, but animals have been observed using a variety of methods to keep their teeth clean. Mongooses use their sharp claws as toothpicks. Rabbits, horses and elephants chew tough grasses and leaves. Some animals have other tiny animals to clean their teeth for them. And recently Thai monkeys were observed using human hair to floss, and apparently teaching their young to do the same. So tooth care is certainly natural. Also, animals' teeth are often effectively 'flossed' by the action of tearing their food and/or chewing (which would also generate lots of alkalising saliva). Another reason to chew our food well, and to include in our diets crunchy whole foods such as apples, carrots and celery which will stimulate saliva production as well as help remove food particles.
Toothbrush type? There's lots of debate on whether a small, large, soft, hard, manual or electric toothbrush is best. Personally, I don't trust electric toothbrushes, but I have no scientific basis for this, and my dentist and hygienist tell me they're the very best (but I'm still not going to use one - sorry Jills!). The most important thing is certainly, when brushing, not to miss bits, and (oh the number of times I've been told this, and do I listen?) to angle the brush so that it goes underneath the gums a little.
When to brush? Brushing should take place two or three times a day. I'd been brought up to be a good little girl in this respect (pity about the sweets...) and always did this, and was later surprised to meet people who only brushed once a day, with their teeth and gums bearing witness to that! Don't brush directly after a meal. Wait 30-60 minutes. Two reasons: firstly, the enamel is softer just after eating and therefore more vulnerable to damage. Secondly, it allows time for your saliva to neutralise acids. Brush enough, but don't brush too much. Brushing to extremes, eg brushing hard many times a day every day has been known to wear away enamel and cause gum recession.
Paste or not? I use a little toothpaste out of habit more than anything else, but see myself moving to using nothing in the future, as certainly on a natural hygiene diet I can't see any reason to use toothpaste. Some swear by baking soda. I'd never use it myself as I see it as unnatural and far too abrasive. 'Tooth soap' has a big fan base in the raw food world, although personally I find the taste unpleasant.
Ever removed floss from between your teeth and smelt, well, the worse sort of poo-smell (OK, not a raw fooder's poo of course!)? That happens far less on the raw food than cooked food diet, but will occasionally if you've let stuff rot on your teeth. That smell is simply the 'poos' of the bacteria that have 'eaten' (decomposed) dead matter on your teeth. (Please don't be like a cooked omnivore friend of mine who was so disturbed by the smell that he never flossed his teeth again...!) Even if you don't eat dried fruit or nuts, fibres of fruit and vegetables can get trapped between teeth, as can their seeds. (I've heard it suggested that unnatural diet over hundreds (thousands?) of years has affected our jaw development, resulting in teeth too close together - evidenced by the growing numbers of children needing orthodontic treatment.) The by-products of the bacteria 'poo' is acidic, and this erodes enamel. Flossing can be done with string, tape, and the same effect can be achieved with toothpicks/brush picks.
After eating nuts and seeds or anything I can feel has stuck to/inbetween my teeth, I use my tongue, saliva and fingers to remove bits from my teeth as far as I can. It's only since starting to put this article together that I've become conscious that I do this quite a lot, and I'm thinking it must be good! So, if you don't, consider getting into the habit.
Vitamin D supplementation?
Some think this is the answer. I don't supplement, and am wary of supplementation (see blog archives Aug 08 for why.) Lots of people will advocate that you do supplement, but here's a dissenting view, taken from my recent article on Vitamin D, here.
'Charlette R Gallagher ('Taking the fear out of eating') explains that the effect of too much D on bones is similar to that of too little and that calcium may be removed from bone and too much deposited in soft tissue, resulting in arthritis-like pain and kidney damage. This is confirmed by the American Dietetic Association: 'excess amounts of vitamin D can cause...reduced bone density.' Some people have found, in taking supplemental vitamin D, that their problems have worsened rather than improved. I remember reading an account by a well-known raw fooder in the UK who noted that the condition of her children's teeth worsened while supplementing for Vitamin D rather than improving.'
It would be good if, next time on the raw food forums a 'high fruit diet is bad for teeth' thread pops up, or a new raw fooder posts with tooth concerns, this article could reassure. And I do think these 'I know someone who...' anecdotes need to be subjected to just a little more scrutiny before being used to alarm others, and, sadly, to dissuade raw fooders from eating all the fruit their bodies desire. Unless we know everything these unfortunate people ingested in the period in question, and have key information about other aspects of their health and lifestyle that could have contributed to their problems, even the most tentative conclusions cannot be drawn.
Provided we follow a diet in accordance with the principles of natural hygiene, we should not run into teeth problems - in fact the reverse should be true.
A happy and fruity New Year to you all!