I've had zombies on the mind lately. No, not literally, I mean I've been thinking a lot about zombies. We have a Halloween costume competition at the office every year, so I'm thinking about what I might be, and my wife won't stop talking about the premiere of The Walking Dead that's on this weekend. The office is all a flutter with "who's it going to be?" chatter - Daryl or Glen seems to be the current consensus.
As Halloween approaches and gives way to full-on pumpkin pie, fruit cake, mimosas, and lots and lots of stuffing . . . it's not just your waist line that tends to suffer through the holiday season! While I'm not going to touch the whole 'question of cholesterol,' I will say that the Paleo disciples may have it right as far as teeth go.
Three Main Dental Concerns
There are three main concerns, as it pertains to dental health, when meat and dairy are not part of a diet: snacking, acid, and a deficit of foods that contain re-mineralizing agents.
Attack of the Snacks
There has been a shift from the 'three square meals a day' to 'graze small and often' when it comes to eating. Vegetarians are generally prone to more frequent snacking as they try to meet their body's need for additional energy. The problem is, constant snacking is just not good for your teeth.
As soon as you start chewing on something, the pH level in your mouth drops, creating a highly acidic environment. In turn, this big soaking pool of acid starts to wear down your tooth's enamel, making a nice little bacteria petri dish for decay to thrive. So a higher snack frequency means feeding the bacteria with more fuel for decay.
What compounds the snack schedule is the type of food that people following a plant-based diet generally tend to reach for. Carbohydrate-rich, acidic fruit, or dry fruit might provide a quick little energy boost, but those snacks are also more prone to stick to the tooth's surface. So a constantly acidic mouth, marinating in fruity acid, can wreak havoc on your enamel, and boom; more cavities.
Damaging acid forms in your mouth every time you eat a sugary snack, this doesn't just mean tootsie rolls, it's also your grandmother's stuffing. Acid erosion, or dental erosion, actually continues to affect your teeth for a good 20 minutes before it's neutralized. This is not good news for the Shakeology devotees, because obviously sticky or viscous snacks and beverages hang around in your mouth longer than things that are either chewed or quickly swallowed.
Not eating enough re-mineralizing foods? Research has indicated that meat, dairy and seafood can help teeth in a couple of ways by counteracting acidity in the mouth. Milk and eggs contain both calcium and Vitamin D. The body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium, which in turn helps to strengthen teeth and bones. Calcium and phosphorus rich foods (like meat and salmon) can help protect enamel and even help replace minerals in teeth - aka 'remineralization.'
Cheese contains casein, which is a protein that can also help to strengthen enamel. So while I tease my vegan friends that they are missing out on the delicious joy that is bacon queso, they are actually not getting the opportunity to keep their teeth healthy. Do you like how I just made the argument for melted cheese and cured meat as a necessary staple for my good health? At least this is what I keep telling my wife.
How To's for Herbivores
If you're avoiding meat and dairy, all is not lost.
- Snack less, avoid sticky, dried fruit, and choose fruit that has a lower acid content (apples instead of oranges) because that is the #1 cause of enamel erosion and tooth decay.
- Try to chew gum with Xylitol in it, and sip on water throughout the day (it acts like a mouthwash).
- Brush your teeth 30 minutes after snacking- why do you think we give you a toothbrush at the end of your hygiene appointment, it's handy to keep in your desk at work.
- Find more carbohydrate rich food, and eat more nuts. Nuts and leafy greens can actually aid with re-mineralization.
- Choose crunchy vegetables like celery and carrots because they contain a lot of water and require a lot of chewing, which in turn stimulates saliva and helps to remove food debris from the tooth's surface. Even better is that your saliva actually contains enzymes that buffer the acids present in food.
Holy Constipation Batman!
No matter which side of the all meat/no meat debate you occupy, the Internet can provide some pretty compelling arguments as it relates to the health of your teeth right down to your toes.
A carnivorous diet, as practiced by Zombies, CrossFit fanatics and the Inuit population, could certainly wreak some havoc on your GI tract, however the 'primal approach' puts forward an interesting theory about lower rates of tooth decay.
Dr. Fernald, a curator of Harvard's Dental School Museum (now there's a place for a family day out) believed that a strict diet of meat was the best way to keep the human mouth healthy, he further argued that civilized people do not eat enough meat, therefore they tend to have more dental decay. Fernald was basing this theory from a collection of dental impressions and skulls that he acquired from Arctic explorer, Commander Donald B. MacMillan who noted that the Smith Sound Eskimos "average about four ounces of vegetable matter each year per capita" and had a very low caries rate.
Obviously, there are a multitude of risk factors outside of diet that can contribute to why a person, or group of people, would exhibit higher levels of tooth decay. Ultimately, maintaining good oral health is the priority, so it is important to consider the relevance of how changes in diet (as well as habits) can affect your teeth.
Trick or Treat
While this has been a fun topic - it goes without saying that in reality, more than one type of diet is certainly capable of supporting good dental health! Any type of diet should always be in conjunction with good home care, and not skipping out on your regular professional cleaning.
And just so you know, dressing up as a zombie will not cancel out the after effects of stuffing your face with the entire contents of your trick or treat bag! Nor will tuning in to see who ends up meeting Lucille on TWD while chewing on Tootsie Rolls (or your grandmother's stuffing).
If you need a good dental cleaning this holiday season, give us a call at (207) 782-5308 or contact us online. If you want to be sure to see what everyone decides to come to work as this Halloween, follow us on Facebook (and vote for my costume, even if I'm not a zombie).