19: The Real Causes of Tooth Decay

19: The Real Causes of Tooth Decay

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The Real Cause of Tooth Decay and What to Do About It

I’ve been fascinated by oral health and it’s connection to whole-body health for a long time. I’ve looked for answers to questions like “Can teeth heal” and “What really causes tooth decay” and this podcast episode addresses those same questions.

What Really Causes Tooth Decay?

Will Revak of OraWellness.com and I talk about the relationship between food and overall health and the health of the mouth. With statistics like “98% of adults in the US have some form of oral health problem,” it is time to start looking more deeply into the relationship of diet and lifestyle to oral health.

The cultural understanding is that sugar sitting on the teeth causes tooth decay and that brushing, flossing and maintaining good oral hygiene is the key to good oral health. Turns out that the data doesn’t really support these ideas though. Consider this:

  • Women are more likely to suffer from oral health problems when pregnant and a pregnant women with oral health problems is more likely to struggle with pregnancy complications
  • Times during our lives where our oral health is affected can affect the body in other ways. For example, teething babies often exhibit symptoms like fever, rashes, diarrhea,  earaches and trouble sleeping. This indicates that what happens in the mouth can affect other parts of the body
  • Patients with certain cardiac patients have to be extremely careful getting dental work done and are often counseled to take antibiotics even for routine cleanings to prevent a life-threatening heart infection.

All of these facts points to the idea that there is a deeper cause to tooth decay and oral health problems than just what happens to the external side of the teeth. On the flip side, these points also indicate that problems in the mouth can affect the body in deeper ways.

The Research

Will points out that if we step back from our cultural assumptions about tooth decay and really evaluate the data, a much different conclusion emerges. Looking at research like:

The Root Cause

Sugar does contribute to tooth decay- just not the way you think it does

The research reveals teeth are not solid as we assume. They are made up of time tubes called tubules and each front tooth alone has up to 3 miles of complex tubules running through it.

Factors like nutrient levels in the body and blood phosphorus levels affect the strength of the tubules and the body’s ability to avoid tooth decay. Foods like bone broth, organ meats, soup, butter, and fatty fish help support healthy blood phosphorus levels (and healthy teeth) while foods like sugar, supplemental calcium, beans and legumes strip blood calcium.

When we look at native populations with low rates of tooth decay, these populations had 4x the minerals in their diets and 10x the fat soluble vitamins. Both of these factors are depleted in modern diets and it makes sense that we are seeing a rise in tooth decay.

Resources we Mention

Will also mentioned the Bass Brushing Technique which is explained here.

Listen to the interview for more great information about avoiding tooth decay and supporting your teeth from the inside out.

Thanks as always for listening to the Wellness Mama Podcast. If you’re enjoying these interviews, please subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher and leave a (5 Star!) rating and review if you haven’t already!

What did you think of this interview? How are your teeth? Ready to make some healthy changes? Share below!

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Reader Interactions

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Reader Comments

  1. You mentioned that supplemental calcium will cause tooth decay. Does the calcium carbonate in your remineralizing toothpaste do this too?

    • Aloha Sherry Lynn,

      Great question! Thanks for asking!

      In my opinion, no, the calcium in Katie’s toothpaste recipe isn’t going to imbalance blood chemistry, unless of course you like to eat spoons of it! 🙂 The little we might ingest from brushing is inconsequential in our opinion.

      Thanks for stopping by and asking!


  2. cool info!

  3. This article is shaky and somewhat misinformed. You are referring to two completely different disease processes here. You are mistakenly discussing tooth decay and periodontal disease as if they are the same pathology with the same disease pathway, etc. Yes, sugar does not cause periodontal disease (gum disease). Sugar is a component in the disease process of tooth decay. Periodontal disease, on the other hand, is multifaceted and it would take pages and pages to adequately describe what we currently know about it. But in a nutshell, it is an genetically-determined, inflammatory process brought about by pathogenic bacteria present in the mouth which results in bone loss in the jaw (and contributes to other generalized problems such as low-birth weight babies, heart disease, stroke, etc.) The bacteria are present regardless of diet. I like that you included the bass technique video though. The only reliable way to prevent periodontal disease is good plaque removing strategies. I am sure that good diet does help to boost the immune response thereby keeping a better balance of health in the mouth. Anyways, this article should not be called, “What really causes tooth decay”, because unfortunately you did not discuss tooth decay at all but rather used some half informed examples of periodontal disease (as I mentioned, a completely different disease pathway and pathogen). But, I am glad that at least you are making people aware that good oral hygiene is most definitely connected to overall body health which is not common knowledge. AW, RDH (Periodontal Disease Expert)

    • Aloha AW,

      Thank you for stopping by to offer your expertise to this important discussion. I apologize if the podcast flow gave any sort of misimpression from your perspective. We do offer the best of our knowledge to this ongoing discussion.

      In all due respect, we do believe that sugar intake does play a direct role in periodontal disease but perhaps not via the mechanisms and pathways that you are suggesting here. Given that regular consumption of sugar is a systemic inflammatory trigger, on a whole body level, how would it not contribute to ‘setting the stage’ for periodontal disease to flourish?

      It may interest you that there are others in your field who also specialize in the treatment of gum disease who have differing opinions regarding the influential role that diet plays in creating resistance or tendency toward periodontal disease.

      In the end, we are all doing our best so bring awareness to this important subject and it’s a great thing that the public is (finally) awakening to the problems associated with chronic oral disease.

      Thank you for doing your part!


  4. Perfect timing after the news of polyethylene in Crest products! Natural oral care for the win!

  5. So, calcium supplements actually “strip” blood calcium? Yikes!! I have a huge fear of osteoporosis and I take store-brand calcium citrate (elemental calcium + D3) twice per day. Do you have any recommendations for different or better calcium supplements? For example, Premier Coral Legend Plus from Radiant Life (puportedly provides both calcium and magnesium in ionic form for better absorption) or Bone Renewal from The Synergy Company (similar claim but without magnesium)?

    • Hi Katie, any thoughts on this? Thanks in advance.

    • Aloha Christy,

      Thank you for asking about this important point! We would love to hear Katie’s thoughts on this too!

      We aren’t dentists, doctors, or nutritionists for that matter, so we are sharing this strictly from our own research on the subject. It’s our understanding that bone density issues aren’t so much a lack of dietary calcium (although clearly that can play a role) but more of a chronic deficiency in vitamin K2. One of the many functions of vitamin K2 is to provide an ‘intelligence’ for the body to place and make available calcium. K2 actually ‘activates’ osteocalcin to be available to ‘plug into’ bone tissue that requires repair.

      So, if we are chronically deficient in K2 (which most of us are), we may have plenty of dietary calcium but no native intelligence within the body of using the calcium efficiently.

      I hope this helps you along your path!


      • Aloha, Will! Thank you for the response. I appreciate the details regarding K2; from what I’m reading, it seems like an underappreciated (and largely overlooked) nutrient. There is so much to consider when it comes to supplements in general … for example, the ratio of calcium vs. magnesium for maximum absorption. It really is a “balancing act,” especially if you are not able to get all necessary nutrients through diet alone.

        P.S. I absolutely LOVE your brushing blend! I use it by itself as well as add it to Katie’s homemade squeezable toothpaste recipe and it makes my mouth look and feel wonderful. I will never go back to commercial toothpaste! 🙂

      • I tried to get to coconut oil to ask a question. However, I wasn’t able to. So here’s my question on the wrong page, When I make chocolate chip cookies with coconut oil, how do I keep them from going completely flat? Am I supposed to keep the coconut oil in the fridge? I followed my recipe as always except to change butter for coconut oil and they all were SO flat. What am I doing wrong.

  6. Love this – thanks so much for sharing – I will be pointing my readers your way!!

  7. I have some questions about oral health that aren’t just about teeth. Maybe I’ll find the answers on the OraWellness site? I thought I’d start here. First, is there any help or ideas for someone who deals with frequent painful mouth ulcers? My husband has been looking for answers for years. Also, we’ve been told that our 6 y.o. son may need braces in as soon as 2-3 years but this sounds a bit crazy to me! How can I make the best choice for my son when it comes to an overcrowded mouth?

    • Renee, I would love a remedy for mouth ulcers as well. When I get them, they can last for about 10 days and I lose around 4 pounds each time because I simply can’t eat much. They are extremely painful. I sometimes can link mine to stress, other times to something tomato-based I eat. Then sometimes they crop up out of nowhere. I will keep checking back here to see if anyone has any ideas…

      • Aloha Cate and Renee,

        Thank you for stopping by to ask about mouth ulcers. I’m going to echo what Katy stated about sugar/yeast here. I found years ago that when I would get mouth ulcers, I had eaten too much sweet food a day or two prior.

        Incidentally, we have received reports from lots and lots of customers who have drastically reduced the healing time or even stopped the ulcer from ‘coming out’ if caught early enough by applying a drop of our Healthy Mouth Blend directly on the affected area. The combination of antimicrobial agents and soothing/tissue supportive qualities of other ingredients in our Healthy Mouth Blend show to be a real help once the ulcer begins.

        In fact, I have to share a quick story with you… Many years ago, we found one customer who purchased a lot of product from us. We knew she just couldn’t be using it all herself. The next time she ordered, we asked her what she was doing with all the product. She confided in us that she was a cancer survivor and recalls the very painful mouth ulcers she would get resulting from the cancer treatment (apparently conventional cancer treatment ie chemo causes painful ulcers in the gum and cheek tissue). She shared with us that she goes to the local cancer treatment hospital near her and gives the patients a bottle of our blend and they don’t get the mouth ulcers! So touching for us! We are SO blessed!

        So, while it’s a bit of a ‘bandaid’ compared to reducing sweet consumption, when you do get a mouth ulcer, putting a drop of our Healthy Mouth Blend directly on it goes a LONG way toward helping the tissue heal quickly.

        We hope that helps! 🙂

    • Cate & Renee

      I have found diet to be a culprit (sugary/yeasty foods) as well as stress. Try a probiotic capsule opened up and put the powder in some warm water (won’t really dissolve but infuses in the water at least) and swish in mouth for a minute or two, a couple times per day and spit out. You can take a probiotic daily as well. Hopefully it works for you. 🙂


  8. Hi Katie, I have a question about oil pulling… Is is safe to oil pull while nursing?

  9. I love, love your podcasts!! They’re short, simple, & HIGHLY informative. I’m so, so grateful for your podcast platform. I loved this interview & am fascinated by the idea of having bone broth on the stovetop (or crockpot) all the time! How AWESOME!!! I’m not super talented in the kitchen. I cook ALL the time, but precisely follow recipes. Sooooo, how could I do this? How often would I change out bones, garlic, veggies? Do you strain it? Skim off fat? I’d love to do this, but need just a little more help/support. I’d adore your feedback!! Thank you!!

    • Hi Aimee! I’m the same way! I’m not much of a cook and
      Follow recipes – doing this for my children!

      An amazing resource that helped me get started and moving into the right direction is the book/recipe book “nourishing traditions” by Sally Fallon. I heard this book referenced by Katies guest on an earlier podcast episode and ordered right away! It’s absolutely amazing and so helpful for us newbies! Good luck!

  10. What was the stuff he put on the brush in the video? Where can I get it or make it?

  11. Aloha Christie!

    Thanks for stopping by to ask your question! I used our OraWellness Healthy Mouth Blend on the video. You can find it here. https://WellnessMama.com/go/OraWellness/

    We look forward to hearing how you benefit from using our products! 🙂

    Thank you and Aloha!

  12. Is it possible to heal teeth on a mostly vegetarian diet, with maybe 1 serving of grain a day most days? I used to eat meat regularly, but can no longer afford it. We raise our own chickens for eggs so have pastured eggs (though I cannot afford organic feed for them and are not up to the task of butchering for meat) and will be hopefully starting to learn to milk our goats the next time any of them kid so will at that time have pastured goat milk. Meanwhile, we eat fish 1-2 times a week and some kind of other meat 1 time a week. Other meals are chickpeas (1 dinner & 1 lunch/week), lentils (1 dinner & 1 lunch/week), peas w/ pasta (1 dinner & 1 lunch/week), and pinto beans (2 dinner & 2 lunch/week). All legumes are soaked about 12 hours before being cooked. We drink about 1 cup of milk each per day (sometimes from dry milk) and add cheese to our morning eggs. We also have vegetables, including greens (currently have chard, bok choy, and kale growing in the garden), sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, salad, various frozen veggies. My teeth keep getting worse and I don’t know what else I can do given our finances. However, spending on food and supplements has got to be cheaper than fillings and crowns!

  13. Great podcast, Katie! I’m looking forward to a podcast about bone health / osteoporosis!

  14. The fluctuated lifestyle, inappropriate food habits and skips of proper oral hygiene would indeed cause tooth decay. Childhood, pregnancy, older age and certain medical conditions are the lifespans needed to be nicely cared. Great details!!

  15. What about using my Phillips Sonicare electric toothbrush? I’m sure it was discussed somewhere but I couldn’t find anything while skimming. Can I use it in the brass method or should I use a manual toothbush? My gums are quite inflamed and sensitive so the electric hurts! I’ve been using her remineralizing toothpaste blend for almost 2 weeks now, I’ve started taking K1,2, Magnesium, D3 and also Concentrace Trace Mineral daily + hydrogen peroxide rinsing and tongue brushing daily. No noticeable improvement yet but high hopes because my holistic dentist wants me to fork over $3000 for a deep clean & wisdom pulling. I’m hoping to improve my situation before seeing her again since I don’t have those funds right now, Thanks for the guidance!

  16. Help! I have been trying to change my family’s lifestyle to a more healthy one over the years, taking and using a lot of what wellness mama says! My youngest daughter keeps developing cavities for some reason! Ugh! Her older sister has never had one! I have been keeping her away from breads and grains (not completely), she brushes with coconut oil and bentonite clay, and I try to make sure she has a healthy diet. Though she is my picky one, and we do live near grandparents that love to give goodies from time to time. What can I do for her? I have even started brushing her teeth myself again, like when she was younger. Any advice please? Thank you!

  17. FANTASTIC interview Katie!!! THANKS!!! I am a HUGE fan of Will and Susan at Ora Wellness, having first heard about them via the Healthy Mouth Summit – which changed my life for the better!!! After making a number of significant life changes based on interviews in the Health Mouth Summit, I feel better now than I have in 20+ years (I am 58). This interview with Will is wonderful – a lovely snapshot to share with my clients to TRY to get them to pay attention to their oral health. THANK YOU for the wonderful work that you do!!!


  18. Hi there. I agree that pregnancy can cause tooth decay, and calcium supplements is absolutely need. By the way, i think we should take care of our oral health at any age and any time. Just back to basic we can prevent our oral from diseases. I usually brush twice a day, plus mouthwash for more effective killing bacteria. I also found a positive result with basic. Bacteria is the main causes oral diseases.So, The more is less bacteria, the more we are healthy.

  19. Thanks a lot for this amazing article.

  20. Thanks a lot for this amazing article.

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