It’s that time of year again: Your biannual dental exam is right around the corner. You’ve brushed and flossed twice a day, inspected those pearly whites, and you’re ready to go, right? Aside from regular brushing and flossing, there’s something else to consider before heading to your next exam: the foods you’re eating.
When we think about eating to improve your dental, oral, and overall health, there are a few main objectives I like to share with my patients. Let’s call them the principles of good dental nutrition:
1. Exercise your jaw with crunchy foods.
Just like you exercise to develop strong muscles and bones in the rest of your body, you must do the same for your jaw. Since you can’t take your jaw to the gym, chewing is one of the only ways to keep it strong and functioning properly. When we eat processed, mushy, or highly refined foods, we strip our jaw of this exercise. Instead, prioritize hard, fibrous foods, like whole raw vegetables, whole nuts and seeds, meat on the bone, and chewy, dried, or cured meats.
2. Give the mouth the nutrients it needs.
The mouth and body need fat-soluble vitamins to function at their best. In addition to helping the body use and distribute calcium, each fat-soluble vitamin plays several important roles and is found in specific foods in nature. Vitamin D is fundamental to our health. Aside from the development of the jaw, it aids our digestive system, immune system, and even brain function. While our bodies are designed to synthesize vitamin D from the sun, you’ll also obtain it from your diet by eating animal products like fatty fish, liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin K2 is also crucial for your bone and teeth health. When animals consume vitamin K1—which is found in grass and green leafy vegetables—their digestive system converts it to K2. This is another reason grass-fed animals produce healthier meat than grain-fed animals. Pasture-raised eggs and butter from grass-fed cows are good sources of vitamin K2. Other options include organ meats, shellfish, and emu oil.
3. Keep the microbiome balanced and diverse.
For your body to perform at its best, your mouth and gut microbiomes need a balance of good and bad bacteria. When you sit down to your next meal, remember that you’re responsible for feeding trillions of microbes living inside you. To keep them happy, you need to consume a balance of foods that contain probiotics, also known as beneficial bacteria, and prebiotics, or food for the beneficial gut bacteria. Fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha are all-natural probiotic sources. As for prebiotics, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and asparagus are great options.
4. Eat food with healthy epigenetic messages.
Each of your genes can be expressed in a staggering number of ways. Epigenetic messages determine how they’re expressed. The healthier those messages are, the healthier your cells, organs, and ultimately, your genes will be. When we eat food, its epigenetic fingerprint speaks to our own microbiome, which responds to the messages it holds and eventually relays messages to our own genes. It’s an intimate and complex conversation.
When deciding on food, it’s important to remember that if an animal doesn’t see sunlight, doesn’t graze on grass, or is dosed with antibiotics, then its body composition changes. This means that the epigenetic messages in its cells change, too—and probably not for the better. My forthcoming book, The Dental Diet, explains this in more detail, but for now, look for animal products that are sourced from:
- Pasture-raised animals and free-range livestock.
- Seafood caught in natural waters. (They have different fatty acid profiles from farmed grain-fed fish, like their land-based counterparts.)
- Crops that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and antibiotics, which shifts the microbiome of their soil as well as that of their own genes.
Your mouth microbiome is super important. But is it more important than your gut's?
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