Last updated on April 12th, 2017
Examining the relationship between low-carb diets and dental health
Last updated: April 2017
When you eat a healthier diet and lose weight, you can reasonably expect good news from a medical exam. I’ve gotten such good news in the past few months: lower blood pressure and improved blood lipid numbers. But I wasn’t expecting diet-related good news from my semi-annual dental cleaning and exam.
I got some anyway.
My teeth were fine. I have a bunch of fillings from years ago, and sometimes one needs replacing, but new cavities have been relatively rare in recent years. Even before going low-carb, I had generally stopped eating candy and drinking sugary pop, and I’ve brushed my teeth at least twice a day for decades.
On my low-carb path, snacks are sugar free.
Cutting most or all sugar out of your diet is bound to be good for your teeth.
Still, at my previous six-month checkup, the dentist found a small cavity at the base of a crown, which required removing the crown and putting in a new one. That wasn’t much fun, and cost me a couple hundred bucks in co-pay.
So I was happy that I had no new cavities, but not surprised. I’ve read that low-carb diets reduce dental decay. The Paleo folks say that the Age of Grain not only brought about human beings smaller in brain-size and overall stature, but also more rotten of tooth. However, given that I’ve frequently had cavity-free checkups, I can’t say much about low-carb eating reducing cavities based on a single checkup. (Update: after six years of eating low-carb, I am prepared to say more. New cavities have been rare, and I was previously inclined to getting cavities. Indeed, nearly all my dental problems in the last six years have involved the break-down of old dental work. It turns out that fillings and even crowns are not immortal. You can out-live them.)
Gum health is also improved!
However, my teeth weren’t all that was examined. The dental hygienist also took a close look at my gums. Every other checkup, she uses a probe to chart any problem spots in my gums. In other words, she is looking for and recording pockets of gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is usually attributed to poor dental hygiene — lack of regular brushing or flossing, or poor technique, or both.
With me, lack of regular flossing is the likely culprit. I always promise that I will floss more often, and that I’ll be sure to get to those back molars, but the flossing habit has never taken hold with me.
That same was true this past year. I had other things on my mind, like losing 50 pounds.
So I was surprised, and my hygienist was delighted, at the improvements in my gums. Last year, her probing found spots in the back of my mouth that rated a “5,” which is bad. You don’t want any readings above a “3.” This year, all of the “5” spots were gone. The worse spots were now only a “4.” That’s not great, but better. Subjectively, I felt less discomfort from the exam and cleaning. I also had less bleeding.
“You must be flossing more,” the hygienist said. “Keep it up!”
“Uh, right,” I said.
Well, maybe I did floss a few more times. I can’t say I did or didn’t. I wasn’t counting. But I made no effort to floss more. And if I flossed more often this year than in other years, it was surely not enough to account for the clear, measurable improvement in my gums. So what does account for it?
In his book The Inflammation Syndrome, Jack Challem has this to say about the connection of nutrition and gum inflammation:
Nearly everyone is taught that sugar-laden foods feed the bacteria that cause cavities. It is not as well known that sugary foods increase gingival inflammation. Cutting the consumption of sugary foods and soft drinks reduces gingivitis, just as increased intake of protein and eating less refined carbohydrates . . . reduces gingivitis.
Challem notes that people with gum disease commonly have high levels of C-reactive protein, a general indicator of inflammation in the body. Reducing carbohydrates in the diet is associated with reducing C-reactive protein and other signs of inflammation.
A study published at BMC Oral Health concluded that “a diet low in carbohydrates, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, rich in vitamins C and D, and rich in fibers can significantly reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation.”
It was a good visit to the dentist. Not only did I have no cavities and improved gum health, but everyone noticed that I had lost weight. Maybe my low-carb diet accounts for all of it.