Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dental Strategy

I've had an unfortunate dental history, but have made some changes in the past year that I suspect will drastically reduce my entanglement with all aspects of the dental profession. During my last two routine dental check ups, I had practically no plaque or bleeding gums which is a significant improvement from every other dental visit any other time in my life. Previously, no matter how much I had flossed or followed the advice from dental visits, I had not seen any significant improvement in that area until this past year. I attribute the primary cause of improvement in my dental health to the factors below (which I suspect can each provide benefits in isolation as well). I wanted to give my strategy the best chance to work quickly, so I did everything at once. I have not studied these in isolation; I leave that to the medical researchers to eventually get to it…

Strategy List
  • Replace any and all fluoride products with xylitol
  • Maintain an Alkaline pH in Your Mouth
  • Add Extra Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Fat Soluble Vitamins (A, E, K2)
  • Daily Oil Pulling
  • Daily Green Juices
  • Periodic tooth scrub with baking soda

Xylitol Instead of Fluoride
Xylitol is an unusual type of sugar (wikipedia page) that appears to be gaining traction in dental circles. From my research, the general idea is that xylitol functions as a kind of trojan for bacteria. The bacteria eat it up the xylitol thinking it is a regularly structured type of sugar, but instead, it impairs the bacteria's ability to reproduce. I have read compelling articles that cavities are primarily the result of plaque acidity. And plaque is a byproduct of bacteria. If the bacteria can no longer reproduce after consuming the xylitol, then they die out and do not create runaway colonies in your mouth. In addition to drastically reducing the bacteria populations in your mouth, I have seen studies that look very promising for increased dental remineralization using xylitol. I would like to understand better how significant this remineralization is likely to be, but from my reading, it could at least stop and reverse small cavities.

I buy xylitol crystals and a keep little cupful with a spoon next to my toothbrush. After brushing at night, I put a spoonful of the crystals in my mouth. It quickly dissolves into a rinse which I swish around while I'm doing other things. After a few minutes, I spit it out and that's that. In regards to eating Xylitol: I've seen quite a few studies published online where people also consume xylitol and it seems to produce fantastic results (drastically reduced cavities), but I've seen a few comments where people attributed increased liver enzymes to xylitol which made me nervous. Until I am convinced eating the xylitol won't put a heavy burden on my liver, I'm not going to eat it for now, only use it as a tooth rinse.

I've been using this brand of xylitol (from Amazon). I like that it is made from birch trees instead of corn. I do not want to risk extra toxins from GMO corn which is the source for most other xylitol I've seen on the market. ( In general, Genetically Modified crops are modified so they can live through smothering insecticide sprays that kill most other plants – no thank you. )

Brief Fluoride Rant
The more I read about fluoride, particularly the form used in our tap water and toothpastes (sodium fluoride), the more I think it is a terrible idea. (Calcium fluoride in trace amounts is the naturally occurring form of fluoride; sodium fluoride is usually an industrial byproduct.) For me, I do not want to risk messing with my endocrine system, thyroid function, or other bodily systems in general. On top of that, after dutifully ingesting quantities of sodium fluoride my entire life (I was a sucker for following orders), after my last unfortunate orthodontic treatment, most of my teeth have all sorts of vertical fissures. To me it looks like an indication that even though sodium fluoride may have had an effect on dental enamel, the enamel may not have formed with the intended elasticity, and instead made my teeth more brittle than they should naturally be. I would infinitely prefer testing these other methods to strengthen my enamel.

Alkaline Saliva
Enamel remineralization appears to be a fringe topic in dentistry, but the encouraging signs out there seem to be related to maintaining an alkaline balance in your saliva. So even if you took care of the bacteria issue with xylitol, if you ate a particularly acidic meal (or drank lemon juice), the acid left behind in your mouth could reduce the chance for your teeth to remineralize. To be on the safe side, if I ever consume acidic food or drinks, I put some baking soda in a bit of water and rinse my mouth. Sometimes I can even hear the fizz as the acids and bases cancel out which is pretty interesting! Seems worth testing to me.

Extra Vitamins
Even though my paleo + raw foods strategy has drastically increased the amount of natural vitamins and minerals I'm consuming, I make sure to add extras of Vitamin C. In my reading, Vitamin C seems to be very beneficial at strengthening arteries and reducing bruising. If it does that, I think it would also help prevent bleeding gums (which are maybe a sign of a vitamin C deficiency? I'd love to know if there are any studies on this). My strategy to help out my liver is to get Vitamin C from natural sources (not ascorbic acid), so I consume Acerola Cherry Powder (I've been mixing it in water with MSM) and Rose Hip Tea. I buy both of these in bulk from www.mountainroseherbs.com.

I've read so many compelling reasons to optimize your Vitamin D levels, but for this post, will highlight dental health. I'm seeing many many articles linking low vitamin D levels (esp D3) with cavities. I suspect mainstream medical science is making a huge mistake advocating that people avoid the sun, and I make sure to have at least 30min of sunlight exposure a day (depends where you are; don't burn). UVB on your skin converts to Vitamin D through a long chain of events. Unfortunately UVB appears to be filtered out of the atmosphere whenever the sun is below 50 deg (you could use your shadow compared to your height as a rule of thumb; if your shadow is longer than your height, then the sun is less than 45 deg above the horizon ==>no  UVB ). I live pretty far north nowadays, so unfortunately the only time the sun is above 50 deg is from April to September or so (and even then only around noon). So, I actually bought a sunlamp in the UVB spectrum for my house. ;p  (I think there's more to sunlight than just UVB, so I make sure to take walks outside in winter as well.) Many people take Vitamin D3 pills, but again, it’s a pill which has who knows what processing. I'd prefer to avoid mystery pills if there is another viable option. If all else fails, move to Hawaii? ;p

Eating enough fat soluble vitamins is also part of my dental strategy. In particular, vitamins A and K2 appear to be particularly compelling. I'm finding more and more that the relationships or ratios between vitamins is a key factor; just one of the reasons why I've moved away from isolated supplements and instead to whole food sources for my 'medicine'. The forms of the vitamins change depending on whether the source is plant or animal based. Even though our bodies have some capability to convert ingested vitamins into the form we need, some forms are easier to convert (bioavailable) than others. For example, in order to facilitate making Vitamin A from Beta Carotene (from carrots), I include a bit of some kind of fat (avocados, nuts, ...) when eating vegetables or greens. I also include some kind of liver in my diet nowadays (beef, cod, or oysters - for primitive organ meats). The Weston A Price Foundation is a decent source of info on the benefits of traditional food strategies including fat-soluble vitamins.

Oil Pulling
This is going to sound strange; very strange. OK that's out of the way. The thought here is: any bacteria that have built up in your mouth (especially first thing in the morning when concentrations are highest) have a fatty outer membrane. Washing your mouth in the morning with water (oil and water don't mix) would not be as effective as washing your mouth with oil. Since like attracts like, the bacteria would easily mix with the oil, & then you would spit it out. Now, you have a clean mouth. :)

There are plenty of resources online about this procedure, but suffice it to say, I put about a tablespoon of coconut oil in my mouth first thing in the morning. It quickly melts and I swish it around vigorously for as long as I feel like (apparently the longer the better up to 20 min or so). I think there is an effect even for a few minutes. (I spit the oil out in the trash; don't use the sink like some other sites suggest – the oil will clog the pipes over time.) I think I had to build up to a tablespoon over time, but now don't think it's a big deal. I remember thinking at first this was the strangest thing I'd heard in a while, but my mouth feels quite clean after doing it, so I will keep it going! BTW, I usually follow with a salt rinse.

Green Juices and Herbal Teas
The benefit of a paleo + raw food strategy is a significant increase in the amount of minerals consumed and a drastic reduction in processed sugars. My strategy is to use green juices (basically juiced leafy greens + carrots) for an easily absorbable infusion of minerals. (I have some more thoughts about green juices in a previous blog post) The more varieties of greens, the more variety of minerals. I have also been drinking strong teas with high silica content (oat straw + nettles + horsetail; I buy mine from www.mountainroseherbs.com). I actually make a 'decoction' which is a stronger tea: Basically I mix a few tablespoons of each herb in a glass jar with boiling hot water & let it sit overnight. (Unheated water also seems to work well in a pinch; wish I could compare the resulting nutrient ratios; seems like the heated water does make the tea darker.) These herbs are usually associated with strong bones; I figured it was worthwhile to test for my teeth as well.

Adding Baking Soda as a Tooth Scrub
The unfortunate side effect of the lovely green juices and dark teas is that they begin to stain your teeth over time. Actually after my first dental checkup six months into this dental strategy, although the plaque and bleeding gum situation was taken care of, my teeth were a bit stained at that point. I had also been testing non-abrasive toothpastes – basically coconut oil, olive oil, and essential oils. Even though I think they worked great for cleaning, they do allow stains to build up. Otherwise, I've been very happy with a product called 'Tooth Soap'. There are different distribution types: liquid, pump, and shreds. I will be getting the shreds for cost saving in the future:

Since I was very encouraged with the progress of the fundamental structural concerns for dental health, I was left only with a final cosmetic issue.  It's easy enough to throw some baking soda onto the brush periodically which has done a great job to scrub stains from my teeth. (I have a cup full & little spoon next to my toothbrush.) I've also been experimenting with a few other more unusual substances that do seem to help a great deal as well: zeolites, activated charcoal, and turmeric. The last two will turn your mouth scary colors until your final rinse. Try those only if you have an adventurous spirit! (I've found the turmeric powder will stain your toothbrush, so you would probably want a dedicated brush just for the turmeric if you try it.) I have been using baking soda + zeolites lately as my primary scrub since it isn't messy. (I mix a small amount with a few drips of water into a paste in my cup and then scoop it out with my toothbrush.)

Baking Soda, Zeolites (even the finest grain you can find), and activated charcoal are known to be abrasive on your gums, so I make sure to brush primarily on the tooth enamel only and keep an eye on my gums to make sure I haven't overdone it. I am also concerned about how much the scrubbing action effects dental enamel (even though my hygienist said my enamel looked good at my last visit); to be on the safe side, I only use the scrub once every 2-3 days or so.

Summing it Up
After my last dental check-up, I had good dental & gum health and had also kept my teeth as white as after their cleaning. I did bring up some of these strategies at my last visit, and they were skeptical about whether any of this would help much (but interestingly enough had favorable words about xylitol). The orthodontists don't think you are crazy when you commit to over $10k of long term dental procedures that cause you life long entanglements to further dentistry. The bottom line is: I don't need to wait 50 years for the studies to come back, and to be given officially sanctified orders. I can test all of it myself.  I find my own experience so far has been significantly improved by these strategies. I'm very excited about what I have seen so far, and wanted to pass along the tips I wish I'd known about earlier. So at this point, I plan to keep this strategy going. It's been working great for me – phew! Hope you find these ideas helpful. :)

by Laura A Knauth

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