Does Brushing Teeth Prevent Cavities?

Why just brushing your teeth won't prevent cavities

Note from Katie: I’ve written a lot about oral health in the past and especially about the body’s ability to remineralize teeth, so I’m excited to welcome Emily Bartlett of Holistic to talk about why brushing teeth isn’t the only factor to prevent cavities. Enter Emily…

Being married to a Brit, I’ve learned that Americans are relatively obsessed with dental hygiene. I don’t know about you, but as a child it was ingrained into me that if I ate too much sugar my teeth would rot and fall out, but if I brushed my teeth and went to the dentist twice per year for cleanings and nasty bubble gum-flavored fluoride treatments, there just may be hope of dental salvation.

Tooth decay has become commonplace and even expected. According to the National Institute of Health, 92% of adults in the U.S. have had cavities in their adult teeth. But did you know that many of our healthy, thriving ancestors often had perfect teeth without braces and no decay?

One man, Weston A. Price, a dentist who lived nearly a century ago traveled the globe to meet and study populations of native people who had not been exposed to modern foods and as a result had perfect teeth without decay. His work has influenced modern dental pioneers such as Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, that bring us the refreshing wisdom that we can prevent cavities and improve overall health with the diets more like our ancestors.

How do Cavities Happen?

It commonly understood that cavities occur when acids in your mouth break down enamel which is the hard protective layer on the outside of each tooth. According to this thinking, sugar makes cavities worse because the naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth breaks down the sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. Sugar + germs = acid which lead to cavities.

So brushing away the sugar and bacteria can help to keep your teeth from decaying.

Turns out, this isn’t quite accurate.

When I looked a bit deeper, I learned that too much sugar actually upsets the calcium to phosphorus ratio in the body, which in turn will cause calcium and other minerals to be leached from teeth and bones, weakening them. Even more importantly, eating specific nutrient-dense foods makes teeth stronger and healthier, sparing them from decay and disease.

Prevent Cavities with Food:

To this day, as I help my little ones brush we sing, “Every day we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth. Everyday we brush our teeth so we don’t get CAVITIEEEES!”

Despite our daily gleeful teeth cleanings, brushing and flossing has become a minor part of our dental health since I learned superior importance of the right diet.

Here’s are the general things you must do to improve your diet if you want to prevent cavities and even remineralize your teeth:

Optimize Food Absorption

In order to be able to properly digest and assimilate nutrients, it’s essential to have health digestive function. Probiotic-rich foods and possibly probiotic supplements play an important role in strengthening your body’s ability to digest food. Learn five easy ways to consume more probiotics in this post.

Gelatin found in bone broth or taken as a supplement can heal the digestive lining to improve poor absorption and/or food sensitivities.

Bone broth is simply a broth made from bones and leftover meat  – the perfect base to the universal superfood – grandma’s chicken soup. It can be made from beef, lamb, pork, or fish too (the latter being especially good for teeth). Unlike store bought stock, homemade broth is loaded with nutritional goodies that are necessary for strong teeth and bones.

You can learn how to make bone broth with this easy tutorial. Make a big pot at one time and freeze by the quart or in ice cube trays. You can use it for quick soups and savory stews, pour it over meals in gravy, drink it warm or cold, or use it instead of water to cook your properly prepared grains or beans.

Reduce Mineral Leachers

Because sugar can upsets the body’s calcium to phosphorus ratio and weaken teeth, it’s best to limit all sweets – especially if you currently have cavities, and try to consume mostly mineral rich sweeteners like real maple syrup, raw honey, and unrefined cane sugar called sucanat.

It is important to eliminate or reduce grain consumption and/or prepare any grains you do eat via soaking, sprouting, or souring. This reduces the anti-nutrient, phytic acid which blocks mineral absorption in the body leading to weak bones and teeth. Because I’m often short on time, I tend to opt for white rice and store-bought bread that is traditionally soured or sprouted to reduce my family’s phytic acid intake.

Consume More Minerals

There are lots of opportunities to include more minerals in your diet naturally. Bone broth, discussed above, is one the easiest ways to infuse your body with essential minerals for healthy teeth.

A second way to get more minerals is by consuming plenty of unrefined sea salt. While conventional nutritionists encourage low-salt diets, this is not only unwarranted, but also unsafe. High quality sea salt is mineral rich and helps the body to maintain proper hydration as well. Read more about the health benefits of salt in this post.

Finally, seaweed, fish and shellfish (especially mussels, clams, and oysters) are very mineral-rich and delicious too.

Eat More Fat and Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Time to shake any fat-phobia because saturated fat and cholesterol from healthy, properly raised animals are essential to healthy teeth. These often shunned fats contain fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E which are unavailable in vegetable sources.

The sources of these foods include dairy from grass fed animals, organs meat, and shellfish. Many of these foods seem odd to our modern tastes of simply eating muscle meats like chicken breast, flank steak, and filet of fish, but once you get used to the idea, they are both delicious and deeply nourishing.

In particular, the fat soluble vitamin essential to prevent cavities are:

Vitamin K2

This little-discussed, but very important fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body know where to put calcium (in the teeth and bones, rather than in lumps or stones). Vitamin K2 is found most abundantly in dairy products from cows raised on green pastures (the cows convert the K1 in the grass to K2 in their milk).

In addition to pasture-raised, choose raw dairy if possible (not pasteurized or homogenized). Raw milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc will be loaded with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and other important nutrients, and since it is not pasteurized, the probiotic and enzyme content is not destroyed so the body will be able to assimilate those nutrients with more ease.

If you already have cavities or weak teeth or you don’t consume dairy regularly, you may want to consider taking a High Vitamin Butter Oil supplement which can provide concentrated quantities of K2. You can get butter oils supplements here.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, commonly known as the sunshine vitamin, is best generated in the human body from regular sun exposure (15-20 minutes/day of direct sun in the equivalent of short-shorts and a tank top). In addition to a long list of functions, Vitamin D is essential to maintain a healthy ratio of phosphorus and calcium for healthy bones and teeth.

For those who do not or cannot get this much sun, the next best choice is to get vitamin D through food – including fermented cod liver oil (discussed below), fish roe, or lard from forage-fed hogs. You can read more about getting vitamin D from food and supplements in this post.

True Vitamin A

Vitamin A pairs up with vitamin D to stimulate and regulate bone growth and repair. Though we commonly are told that we can get vitamin A from carrots and other orange veggies and fruit, in reality, these foods contain carotenes which are often poorly converted to true vitamin A.

Many folks turn up their noses at the thought of eating liver, but when it comes from healthy animals, liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods on earth, providing us with more fat-soluble vitamins A and D than any other food.

My family consumes liver regularly by pureeing it and mixing it in with ground beef for everything from meatloaf to chili. Pate and sausages containing liver also are a hit – without the yuck factor.

If none of these foods are in your dietary realm of possibility right now, start with a fermented cod liver oil supplement like this one. Good quality cod liver oil provides essential omega 3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and D, and is a supplement that would benefit nearly everyone to take whether or not you have liver on your plate.

A final option when it comes to consuming liver for dental health is to take dessicated liver pills, available here.

Learn more about how to prevent cavities:

For more information on preventing cavities, remineralizing teeth, and improving overall health, Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel is an invaluable resource. Rather than brushing your teeth and hoping for the best, you can be proactive in securing great dental health by choosing foods that make your teeth resilient and strong.

Emily BartletAbout the author: Emily Bartlett L.Ac. is the creative voice behind Like the mysterious creature that shoots and swirls through the ocean, she’s got her tentacles exploring many things: fertility, health, delicious, nourishing food, and whatever else blooms from her neo-hippy existence in Southern California. Go say hi!

Have you prevented or healed cavities using diet? Share in the comments below!

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Reader Comments

  1. I’m sorry, but for this post to be coming from someone who is NOT a dental professional I find the title of this post to be rather bold and inaccurate. Just sayin’…as someone who was trained in the dental field.

    • I understand why you would feel that way. At the same time, this article quotes research that is available to the public (and has been for decades) on the relationship between food and dental health. It certainly isn’t saying “Don’t brush” but just that other things are important as well. Also, I have close friends who are dentists and assistants and they’ve said that dental professionals really do not get much (if any) training in nutrition so I think this is important information to get out. Also, while I have tremendous appreciation for dentists (and doctors), I don’t think anyone should turnover his/her health completely to any professional and that we should all be continually researching many aspects related to health.

      • well stated! and thank you for re-introducing the forgotten – or should i say pushed aside knowledge, in favor of a new profit venue; having worked in health care for a few decades, i see changes for good as well as changes for pure profit; the dental field is probably no different.

      • Thank you for this amazing post. I am so happy that i can find in your page new information and alternatives to take care of my health in a more natural way.
        You know what is one of the best parts? That i can save MONEY hahaha and TIME.
        Thank you… I am your fan…..

      • A very interesting post! But I see where Jessica (posted on 6/2) is coming from, as well; for that reason, it would be awesome to see your sources cited below this post, so we know where the info is coming from & can check out the full source for more details, if needed. 🙂 I zipped through your article to see if any of the links were going to scholarly/scientific publications/studies, but that wasn’t the case. They were “see also” sort of links, not bibliographical links. Just thought I’d mention it… 🙂

  2. As someone who has had many cavities, forked over beaucoup bucks on dental work and been told I just have “soft” teeth, I love this post! Will be incorporating much of this into my day! Lastly, mother always knows best, my mom (I’m 31. Ha!) still tells me I should be eating liver. Thanks Wellness Mama and friends!

    • I have been told the same and am really interested if this type of dieting/supplementing is really the answer.

  3. Spot on, Katie! Just learning about sugars’ acidifying effects on the blood pH which = calcium leaching right now in my schooling. For “toothpaste” – I just use coconut oil, peppermint oil, and a little baking soda to get them pearly white. No cavities thus far… ever! 🙂

  4. Question: where do I start if I already have several large fillings from years ago? Thanks!

    • Adrienne, have you read “Cure Tooth Decay” yet? I would start there and you can also pull up information on the Weston A Price Foundation website. I believe the book also makes recommendations for those with existing fillings. 🙂

      • And this book has lots of those ‘sources’ listed that people are asking for! Great article by the way!

  5. The more I read about this, the more convinced I become. in the past six years I have accumulated 12 cavities, with brushing habits that satisfied my dentist. After getting them all filled and flossing not once but twice a day, I still can see more starting to form. Now I know I need to start taking supplements like those you have listed above, for sure.

    Anywho, I was reading you’re article about salt and it’s minerals. I already use sea salt but was wondering if you were familiar with the Costco brand Himalayan pink salt? Does it have all the minerals that Mountan Rose Herbs salt has? I’m interested in getting it but I don’t want to waste money if it has been altered or processed. Thanks in advance!

  6. My one yer old baby,who is raised on traditional food, no grains,legumes or added sugar, got white spots all over her upper teeth, her ped says not to worry, but I do, ESP that we filter fluoride, what would you do in my shoes?

  7. This is a great post! I was recently told my son has several cavities and we are refusing the drill and fill. He is only 5! It came to quite a surprise to me because I have been making our diets better over the past 2 years Since reading Cure Tooth Decay. I include many paleo meals and high quality fats. I make sure my boys get both Vitamin D and magnesium. They eat lots of veggies. Sometimes we consume gluten-free grains but I try to do that in moderation (mostly white rice). After taking him to the dentist, I am crushed and confused. I’m starting to think that I am giving them their vitamins at the wrong time, spaced out during the day and I need to do what Dr. Price did in the book. Which is feed one really high quality meal a day and include supplements then. I plan to give him cod liver oil and more vitamin D. If that doesn’t work I want to try the Green Pastures Royal Butter/FCLO capsules. Wish me luck. We have 2 months until he is re-evaluated. Thanks for touching on this important topic! I love both your blogs.

    • I was just wondering, how did it go with the capsules? I’m tempted to purchase some for myself. My kids don’t look to have any cavities yet, but I and my husband do. I just started putting eggshells in some of my food but not terribly consistent yet. And vitamin d is not working as the supplement it seems. Thanks

    • Hi, your teeth are healthy or unhealthy because of what you consume and your lifestyle. It has little to do with brushing your teeth, particularly with a toothpaste with fluoride in it – as recommended by much of the Dental Industry. The dentist does not own your teeth, you do. Strange how many of us follow what the dentist says and yet we still have cavities. In Ireland their water is 100% fluoridated and yet they have one of the worst rates of dental decay, why is that? Surely they should have the best? The fact is that following what your dentist tells you will not help your teeth stay healthy and strong. The sooner we all wake up, realise that and start asking the question why, over and over again like a 3 year old, then maybe we might start to get to bottom of the issue.

      Even if you have fillings you can re-mineralise your teeth. If we have a cut or a graze, it does not remain forever, our skin repairs all of the time and so do our teeth, if you give them the right materials, minerals, vitamins etc to do this. It is a bit like taking you taking your car to the garage and expecting the mechanic to fix it without any tools or with the decorating tools. Give them the right materials and the body is incredibly intelligent, it knows exactly what to do and like in a warehouse will distribute the materials to the correct place. If we eat a diet of junk, we will have a junk filled body. Would you put muddy water in your petrol tank? Treat your body with respect.

  8. Just got back from the dentist who said “I don’t see any cavities”. And he then proceeded to delete from my chart both the cavity he was going to “fix”, and the crown he was going to install from a year ago. It works. I’ve done it. With the correct diet changes you can fix your own teeth.

    • I absolutely agree! I had a small cavity two years ago… When I learned about it I decided to try all natural ways in order to get rid of it and yes, it healed!
      Plenty of good fats, mostly raw diet, swishing with sesame oil, drinking plenty of pure water, tea infusions… Very little sugar, no processed foods, little milk…
      It’s absurd to think that a bone can heal, that skin can heal, but a tooth cannot!

  9. Since good quality meat is so expensive, we add a lot of beans to our meals. How do you cut back on the grains/legumes without increasing the budget so much? We are also gluten free.

    • That’s a tough one. Eating more meat in general will be more expensive. We eat gluten-free as well. I used to replace meat with beans all the time before I read about phytic acid. Now I realize they have nowhere near the same nutritional value and actually take nutrients from the other food you eat in the meal. I avoid legumes almost entirely now. We do our best to eat meat and veggies but to help stretch our dollar, I add white rice to our meals several times a week. We also eat gluten-free pasta once a week (for a quick, inexpensive meal). Another idea is to utilize the meat you buy. If you buy a whole chicken, use the bones to make a couple batches of broth which you can use for soup and even cook your rice in it. I just started buying meat from a local farm. They aren’t certified organic but they pasture their animals as much as possible and supplement with grain that they grow. I think it’s better than any of the meat I can buy in the store and more affordable.

      Our diet has improved immensely over the past 2 years but I spend over $600 a month on food! Good luck!

    • I got a 14 cubic foot chest freezer for $350 and was then able to get a grass-fed quarter beef which brought the cost per lb down to $4/lb and 20 lbs of alaskan wild salmon for $13/lb, etc. Buying in bulk helps a lot. Costco sells whole organic chickens for relatively cheap, and once in a while Whole Foods has some sort of organic chicken thighs or wings for 50% off, so I try to stock up when that happens. It is expensive, but I just think about all the money I save on beer now that I can’t drink that either 🙂

      • Kristie – we are thinking about getting a freezer. Where did you find the beef and fish for so cheap? i’m assuming that $13/lb is a typo?

  10. Dose this also help in protecting tooth enamel and help for sensitive teeth as well.

    • I used to have “sensitive teeth” for about 20 years and used “Sensodyne” toothpaste, which was and still is about three time the price or ordinary toothpaste. Then last year, I came across various health articles on- line regarding organic dentistry. I had never heard of this before. I started to eat a lot of raw food, grapefruit for breakfast, which I had never really liked before, but I made myself eat it. To my absolute amazement the sensitivity or inflammation, as I now realise is what it was, disappeared. It took about 4 weeks. All the pain, which was like floating pain moving up and down my teeth, my face, my forehead and my neck disappeared. Now if I have any pain I eat several sticks of celery. No more “paracetamol” / painkillers. It is amazing what natural painkillers are in our food, herbs and spices. It is all about knowledge. Read something, try it out. I try all sorts of things now and adds lots of herbs and spices to the meals I prepare.
      Dentist do not seem understand that teeth do repair themselves, when given the materials to do so. Drilling out a tooth is disasterous. I will never let a dentist drill any of my teeth ever again or my children’s. I believe it is totally unnecessary. Eat the proper foods to repair your teeth. Cut out processed foods and drink, they are the cause of most of our problems. Read and become knowledgeable. Do not rely on your Dentist. They are your teeth.

  11. Dairy won’t be “loaded with calcium” unless it’s loaded in the grass the cow eats because the cow does not manufacture calcium. Calcium is a mineral and like all minerals, it’s present in variable amounts in the soil. Some soils for example are rich in Selenium while others have none. If there’s little calcium in the soil where the cow eats the grass there will be little calcium in the dairy products. And if the cow is eating feed, not grass, and calcium hasn’t been added to that feed in sufficient quantities, the milk from that cow will be low in Calcium. Same is true for any other minerals. We need to consider these facts and not just assume that dairy is “loaded with calcium” just because it’s dairy!

  12. Thank you so much for the dental info. Thank goodness someone FINALLY REPORTED THE TRUTH ABOUT CAVITIES AND SUGAR!!!! Liver so wonderful for the body…..that wonderful naturally iron our bodies need. I am immediately checking in to the Dessicated Liver Pills. Thanks so much for the report Katie and all that you do……how you do it with 5 children is the million dollar question. WOW!!! I have learned so much from you!!!!

    Wishing you Happy & Healthy Days!

  13. Great article! However it’s important to realize that dairy won’t be “loaded with calcium” unless it’s loaded in the grass the cow eats first because the cow does not create calcium. Calcium is a mineral and like all minerals, it’s present in variable amounts in the soil. Some soils for example are rich in Selenium while others have none. If there’s little calcium in the soil where the cow eats the grass there will be little calcium in the dairy products. And if the cow is eating feed, not grass, and calcium hasn’t been added to that feed in sufficient quantities, the milk from that cow will be low in Calcium. Same is true for any other mineral. We need to consider these facts and not just assume that dairy is “loaded with calcium” just because it’s dairy!

  14. You do also still advocate oil pulling, right? It has finally become a habit for me and I hope it’s not all for nothing :~)

  15. I have heard that chicken shells that are cooked for 10 minutes +yogurt will aid in rebuilding tooth enamel. I feed Chickens egg shell for harder shells. Also Carrots. Your Take on this.

  16. My daughter just started dental assistant school this week and one of the first things the 2 dentist told the students is that they cannot tell the patients to fix their diets to fix their teeth because people just do not want to hear it and would go to someone else. Thanks for the great articles and research> Also, I just went and had my 4 fillings that were 43 years old and mercury removed and replaced. I was told by my dentist that people should not even be using toothpaste that the main concern is to get the tarter off or keep it off and people mostly use toothpaste for the flavors it leaves in the mouth. We use coconut oil, cayenne pepper if we are feeling sick, and clay once a week and she was amazed that my mouth looked great.

    • While it is true people simple don’t want to hear it , because they don’t, as a dental professional PART of my daily speech when giving oral hygiene instrutions to patients is nutritional counseling for healthy teeth. Theres even continued education classes dental professionals can take focused specfically on diet and oral health.

      The focus in every office I’ve ever worked in has been improving oral health and smiles. Your diet is a definate part of both.

  17. In the UK, raw cane sugar is called muscovado. Brown sugar is granulated sugar with colouring added. It’s easy to buy dark brown or light brown muscovado sugar and that’s the one with the nutrients in. Sucanat is a brand name by the way 🙂

    I also use organic blackstrap molasses in place of sugar when I’m not baking, e.g. with sour fruit like rhubarb or with porridge. Although to be honest, I find now that if I cook rhubarb or gooseberries with no sugar and serve them with something with natural sugars in (e.g. lactose in cream or yoghurt) I don’t need the sugar at all.

  18. We are gluten, dairy, soy and starch free in our house. However, do the sugars from fruit count as bad sugar or does that count as natural sweetners in regards to tooth decay?

  19. Should I stay away from fresh fruit if I want to prevent cavities because I am a big fruit lover?

  20. What an on-time post – I have been going through my own oral health troubles lately after having perfect teeth for so long! I wish I knew a lot of these things sooner!

  21. I am supposed to be getting a root canal. I’m doing some research and learning that it’s really dangerous to the rest of your body. What are my alternatives? I feel like it’s too late to change my teeth.

  22. Gee, I wish my parents new this stuff about 60 years ago!….The only time I went to the Dentist was when I had a tooth ache and that was too late because the cavity was already there…Never went to the dentist for cleanings…. So by the time I was in my 20’s I was going to the dentist on a regular basis for redoing cavities, having crowns done and root canals. I even had my teeth straightened in my 40’s. Then, every time I had a sinus infection I would get a tooth that became abscessed and had to be extracted after I had a root canal and a crown. I’ve had over $30,000 worth of work done in 30 years. Now I have a partial plate in the upper part of my mouth…. I still brush and floss on a daily basis….Incidentally, I was raised in Detroit and they did not have fluoride in the water system. I raised my kids in Grand Rapids, Michigan…Took them to the dentist 2 to 3 times a year for cleaning…2 of the 3 had braces. My one daughter moved to Detroit and started with a new dentist. The dentist said: “You’re not from Detroit are you.” He could tell by the condition of her tell, “Perfect”….
    I can’t change what has happened to me, but only tell folks to eat right and see your dentist 2 to 3 times a year. Brush and most importantly, FLOSS…..

  23. I find a lot of the information on your website interesting and noteworthy. However, I do find it disconcerting that Radiant Life is not a member of the BBB. I try not to deal with companies that are not BBB rated. I would like to know more about this company. I don’t want to buy from a company that I can’t vet to make sure that I am getting the quality of products that I am being told that I am getting. So many companies have been corrupted by the “big corporations”. Because they use the USDA Certification seal on their products I am apprehensive of trusting that they are truly “organic” products. The USDA, FDA, and EPA have all been infiltrated by Monsanto former high level employees. There is even a Supreme Court Justice that use to work for a law firm that defended Monsanto as one of their clients. I am trying to take all the toxic products out of my life but it is very hard to trust that these companies that are trying to offer an alternative to the “poison” that Monsanto puts in their products. What guarantees are offered that the companies and the products that you are “recommending” are not corrupted and that their products claims are true? I am greatly concerned that there are very few companies that are actually producing products that are in compliance with the Non-GMO claims.

    • The Better Business Bureau is hardly an objective source when it comes to the quality of a company or business. Where I live it’s well known that the BBB is a “pay to play” service that doesn’t have a very good reputation. Also, many online companies are not a member of the BBB. Regarding Radiant Life, I’ve been ordering from them for years and have personally met the owners and trust their products completely.

  24. My daughter is 8 and I want to start her on supplements and routines to help her oral health as regular brushing and flossing and “healthy” diet are not cutting it. She just had her first cavities, 4! They were on her newest teeth (6 yr old molars). When they were coming in, I noticed they were a little yellow from the get go in the centers. I am wondering if she isn’t getting enough minerals. What would you suggest a good supplement/diet routine would be for her to naturally heal her teeth? She already unfortunately had the fillings, but I would like to help her for the future and her younger siblings. Thanks!