Paleo Diets And Dental Health

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If you’re anything like me, you might be obsessed with human prehistory in the Paleolithic period. Starting as a kid, I read all the books I could get my hands on about how our Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal ancestors may have lived.  This passion was only compounded when I read Jean M. Auel’s  Earth’s Children series, starting with The Clan of the Cave Bear.  Auel’s imaginative Ice Age fiction epics carefully constructed a portrait of everyday life for early humans, complete with detailed descriptions of their diets and their natural medicinal treatments.

What Is The Paleo Diet?

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Now, in the midst of the current Paleo diet trend, it’s important to take a look at what the Paleolithic archaeological record reveals about health—in particular, dental health.  While teeth can decay during the life of a person, after death, the bacteria that break them down can’t survive.  Thus, they’re the most durable human remain that can be found.  Teeth are one of the most important finds in archaeology.  They can reveal various different things about life in the time period from where they hail, including health, diet, lifespan and medical know-how.  They’re a crucial indicator of how our food and lifestyle affect us.  

What archaeological remains tell us about Paleo diet and dental care.  It is difficult to imagine what losing teeth could mean for a human being in the Paleolithic era.  Without even the most rudimentary benefits of modern dentistry, it meant that you could not chew and rend the tough foods found in nature.  Particularly during the Ice Age, this could make all the difference between life and death.

It is commonly believed that before the rise of agriculture, which resulted in the consumption of complex carbohydrates and sugars that promote cavities and gum disease, the meat and vegetable diets of hunter gatherers promoted little to no tooth decay.  Dissenters point to a recent Paleolithic site uncovered in Morocco, with tooth samples showing evidence of severe tooth degradation due to acorn consumption.  Neanderthal remains also show that early humans relied on starches for energy and nutrition, and starches are also sources of complex carbohydrates that aren’t beneficial to teeth.

Paleo And Your Teeth

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What modern Paleo diets mean for dental care.  A perfunctory scan of the available information reveals a division of opinion about Paleo diets and their impact on teeth.  From the pro-Paleo side, the general consensus seems to be that the diet’s rich vitamin and mineral content, and lack of processed food and complex carbohydrates, leads to fewer cavities and less gum disease.  There is even a recipe for Paleo toothpaste made out of coconut oil and baking soda!  However, there are those that claim that the evidence does not support these assumptions, per the Moroccan findings mentioned above.  Additionally, dental health in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies also fails to entirely support the assumption that the Paleo diet will improve your gums and teeth.

Before beginning a Paleo diet, it’s a good idea to consult both your trusted family doctor and your family dentist.  Get their input, and then see if it’s right for you.  Above all, don’t put off tooth cleanings and visits to the dentist simply because you are on the Paleo diet.

Alex is a writer for Greenspoint Dental, a dentist office located in Houston, Texas. You can visit their site to get more information on how your diet affects your dental health.  Alex has tried many diets in his time; some have been better than others.  

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3.

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