Although we've followed this method by and large for the past century or so, research indicates that there may be better ways to protect our oral health––and that there's one key factor we've been overlooking all along.
In the early 20th century, a dentist named Dr. Weston A. Price got curious about why he kept seeing people in Western societies who had poor oral health (despite using modern oral hygiene practices), while those in less developed societies had great dental health, even though they lacked the same oral care routines. After a series of expeditions, he isolated a common factor: nutrition, particularly a mystery nutrient called "Activator X".1
The Mystery of Activator X
Dr. Price had already determined that people in the more traditional societies he studied had dramatically different diets than many of us do today. Not surprisingly, a lack of sugar and processed food and a focus on fat soluble vitamins appeared to make a big difference in their oral health. But his research also indicated that the presence of something he called "Activator X" seemed to make all the difference when it came to maintaining good dental health.
He wasn't sure what Activator X was, only that it showed up in butter, milk, and fat from animals that ate fresh, green grass. While its identity was a mystery, its effects were clear: if you removed Activator X from a person's diet, their body became much less able to absorb and use the minerals needed to maintain strong, healthy teeth and gums.
Decades after his death, scientists were finally able to discover the mystery nutrient's identity—what Dr. Price had called Activator X was actually vitamin K2, a nutrient that had been previously isolated in other types of food, but was never connected with dental health.2
The Role of Vitamin K2 in Dental Health
Further research on vitamin K2 has backed up Dr. Price's theories. Once thought to be nutritionally insignificant compared to vitamin K1 (important for blood clotting), researchers now know that vitamin K2 helps the body keep calcium in places where it belongs (teeth and bones) and out of places it doesn't (organs, arteries, and soft tissue). It also enables your saliva to donate the phosphorus that it would otherwise hold onto to your teeth to strengthen your enamel.3
What's more, it's the vitamin K2 that makes vitamins A and D effective when it comes to maintaining dental health. When you consume vitamin A and D together, the combination signals your body to produce certain proteins. If you add vitamin K2 to the mix, then these proteins become able to manipulate calcium and phosphorus, arranging these minerals in ways that keep your teeth healthy and hard.4
How You Can Use Nutrition to Support Your Oral Health
Knowing what you now know about the role of nutrients and food for healthy teeth, you might be tempted to start stocking up on vitamin K-rich butter and meat. And that's a great place to start––but to really experience the best results, it’s important to focus on multiple aspects of nutrition by consuming nutrient-rich foods and combining them in ways that maximize their efficiency, avoiding anti-nutrients, and getting your bacteria in on the game.
1. Make the most of your nutrients.
We've already talked about vitamin A, D, K2, calcium, and phosphorus, but your mouth's nutritional needs don't end there. Your teeth also need zinc and magnesium to stay as hard as they should, while your gums need vitamin C, iron, and folate, among other things.5,6
The more foods containing these vitamins and minerals you consume, the more your body is able to rebuild and maintain healthy teeth and gums. So start by switching up your diet to emphasize foods that contain beneficial vitamins for teeth and gums, including bone broth, fermented cod liver oil, high vitamin butter oil, pasture-raised meat, organ meats, oily fish, and raw dairy.
If you really want to take your nutrition to the next level, then try nutrient-pairing. Just like vitamin K2 helps your body make the most of vitamins A and D, other combinations of nutrients add up to more than the sum of their parts, too. For instance, vitamin D increases the amount of calcium you absorb.7
2. Avoid anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients are components in food that absorb other nutrients or make it harder for your body to use them. If you get a lot of anti-nutrients in your diet, you can actually end up neutralizing the effects of the good nutrients you're eating, leaving your oral health at risk.
Two anti-nutrients to pay particular attention to are lectins and phytic acid. Commonly found in grains and legumes, they're part of plants' defense systems, meant to keep animals from eating the plants until they have enough time to grow and produce seeds. While you can reduce the levels of lectins and phytic acid by preparing these foods in certain specific ways, continually consuming these anti-nutrients can leach vitamins and minerals from your body, including those most needed for oral health.8
So try to avoid large amounts of foods containing anti-nutrients, including grains, legumes, and nightshade vegetables. Go easy on almonds and Brazil nuts, both of which have medium levels of phytic acid, and do your best to stick with produce that's in season––fruits and veggies forced to ripen before their time retain high levels of lectins.
If you feel like you need to keep these foods as part of your diet, then consider sprouting or fermenting them, as both of these processes lower the levels of anti-nutrients they contain, and fermenting even encourages the growth of probiotics.
3. Supplement with probiotics.
Your oral microbiome is home to hundreds of species of bacteria; ideally, it keeps everything in balance and at a neutral pH, but if you eat a lot of acidic or sugary foods, you can lower the pH of your mouth, creating an acidic environment. This can wear away at your tooth enamel, making your teeth soft and more vulnerable to damage, as well as create an immune response that leaves your gums irritated. Additionally, certain undesirable bacteria, including S. mutans and P. gingivalis, thrive in an acidic environment.9
Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to throw your oral microbiome out of whack––dental health products like toothpaste, mouthwash, and floss often contain ingredients like alcohol, antibacterials, detergents, and artificial flavors that can throw off the balance of your oral bacteria and the pH of your saliva, leading to damaged gums and weak teeth.10
Taking probiotics designed specifically to support your oral microbiome can help keep this from happening, giving your good guys a fighting chance at protecting your dental health.11
But the possibilities for microbial help don't stop there––the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a big part in how well your body absorbs nutrients by protecting your gut barrier, promoting healthy digestion, and even maintaining your microvilli, the tiny, finger-like protrusions on the walls of your intestines that absorb nutrients.12
From superpower nutrients like vitamin K2 to supporters like probiotics, nutrition is the new name of the game when it comes to oral health. You would never go a day without brushing your teeth, so why not give your teeth and gums the best care at the cellular level too?
By combining complementary practices like brushing with a natural probiotic-infused toothpaste, focusing on foods for healthy teeth and a healthy gut, and supplementing with daily probiotics for both digestive and oral health (like PRO-15 and PRO-Dental), you can be sure that you're giving your body the support it needs so you can, in turn, enjoy the strong teeth, healthy gums, and fresh breath that nature intended!
1. Price, W.A. (1939). Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects. La Mesa: Price-Pottinger Nutrition Foundation.
2. Rheaume-Bleue, K. (2013). Vitamin K2 And The Calcium Paradox: How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life. New York: Harper Collins.
3. Berkner, K.L., Runge, W. The Physiology of Vitamin K Nutriture and Vitamin K-Dependent Protein Function in Atherosclerosis. (2004). Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 2(12), 2118-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1538-7836.2004.00968.x
4. Oliva, A., Ragione, F.D., Fratta, M., Marrone, G., Palumbo, R., Zappia, V. (1993). Effect of Retinoic acid on Osteocalcin Gene Expression in Human Osteoblasts. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 191(3), 908-14.
5. Mohammed, N. R., Lynch, R. J., & Anderson, P. (2015). Inhibitory Effects of Zinc Ions on Enamel Demineralisation Kinetics in vitro. Caries Research, 49(6), 600-605.
6. Chambial, S., Dwivedi, S., Shukla, K.K., John, P.J., Sharma, P. (2013). Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 28(4).
7. Schroth, R. J., Rabbani, R., Loewen, G., & Moffatt, M. E. (2015). Vitamin D and Dental Caries in Children. Journal of Dental Research, 95(2), 173-179.
8. Mellanby, M., & Pattison, C. L. (1932). Remarks on The Influence of a Cereal-Free Diet Rich in Vitamin D and Calcium on Dental Caries in Children. The British Medical Journal, 1(3715), 507-510.
9. Takahashi, N., Schachtele, C.F. (1990). Effect of pH on the Growth and Proteolytic Activity of Porphyromonas Gingivalis and Bacteroides Intermedius. Journal of Dental Research, 69(6), 1266-9. doi: 10.1177/00220345900690060801
10. Blinkhorn, A., Bartold, P.M., Cullinan, M.P., Madden, T.E. . . . Seymour, G.J. (2009). Is There a Role for Triclosan/copolymer Toothpaste in the Management of Periodontal Disease? British Dental Journal, 207, 117-25. doi: 10.1038/sj.bdj.2009.669
11. Chuang, L-C., Huang, C-S., Ou-Yang, L-W., Lin, S-Y. (2011). Probiotic Lactobacillus Paracasei Effect on Cariogenic Bacterial Flora. Clinical Oral Investigations, 15(4), 471-6. doi: 10.1007/s00784-010-0423-9
12. Bonder M.J., Tigchelaar E.F., Cai X., Trynka G., Cenit M.C., Hrdlickova B., Zhong H., . . . Vatanen T., Gevers D., Wijmenga C., Wang Y. and Zhernakova A. (2016). The Influence of a Short-Term Gluten-Free Diet on the Human Gut Microbiome. Genome Medicine, 8(45). doi: 10.1186/s13073-016-0295-y
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.