When it comes to diet trends, there are a few heavyweights that top the list, including the low-carb, low-fat, South Beach® and Atkins® diets. There’s also a few others gaining speed, including vegan, slow-carb and Paleo.
These diets all have positives and negatives, and most physicians advise patients to pursue a balanced approach appropriate to your physical makeup, habits and lifestyle.
The open-ended question is: are these diets good or bad for your teeth?
We’ve looked at a few others already, so today let’s dive deep on The Paleo Diet®.
What is The Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet takes its lead from food consumption habits of humans who lived in the Paleolithic era – the period between about 2.5 million and 20,000 years ago.
These hunter-gatherers, who lived during the period more commonly referred to as The Stone Age, lived on a diet of wild plants and animals.
The Paleo Diet is modern man’s attempt to mimic that consumption pattern.
Meat, Fresh Fruit, and Veggies. What’s not to Like?
At first glance, Paleo’s recommendation to focus on lean meats, fish, fruit, and vegetables, seems like the perfect plan for healthy living. And, to a large degree, if you were to fill your refrigerator with these foods, your doctor would be pretty happy with your decision.
That said, because Paleo excludes dairy and grains, your doctor and your dentist might ask you to aim for a bit more balance once you’ve achieved any weight loss goals you might be chasing.
Positive Oral Health Aspects of a Paleo Diet
- Fiber: We could all use more fiber, and with all the fruit and vegetables you’re going to consume, the recommended 22-34 grams a day for adults should be a breeze. Your teeth will love you for it as well, because fiber has somewhat of a detergent effect on your mouth, scrubbing away plaque and debris as you chew.
- Potassium: Bones (like the ones that comprise your jaw and hold your teeth in place!) love potassium, and it’s a difficult nutrient to get unless you’re consuming a ton of bananas and V-8® juice.
- Vitamin B-12: Thank your lean meats and fish for good numbers in this area. B Vitamins are essential for healthy gum tissue, and on a Paleo diet you’ll have no problem accumulating the recommended 2.4 micrograms a day.
- Vitamin C: We all know Vitamin C is good for us, and once again, it’s fruit to the rescue. Vitamin C is critical in the development of collagen and healthy gum tissue, and has the added benefit of keeping you free from the ravages of scurvy.
- Low-Glycemic Carbs: Since you’ll be avoiding all sorts of refined sugars and starchy vegetables on The Paleo Diet, your teeth are going to get a break from the sticky sugars that are a primary cause of teeth decay. As we always say, what’s good for your waistline is often good for your teeth.
- Unprocessed Oils, Nuts and Seeds: Healthy fats from olive and sesame oils, avocados, nuts and seeds protect teeth by helping them re-mineralize. When it comes to nuts, though, binge eating is a real concern – don’t eat too many if you’re concerned about your fat intake.
- A Healthy Reliance on Water: The Paleo Diet shuns beverages that are bad for your teeth. Nut milks are okay when unsweetened, but water remains the beverage of choice for the majority of Paleos. Is water good for your teeth? You betcha. Swish it around and remove all that junk from your teeth, stimulate saliva flow, and keep that oral cavity properly hydrated!
Oral Health Concerns with The Paleo Diet
- Getting Energy from Sticky Fruit: Since The Paleo Diet avoids grains, and consuming larger volumes of vegetables necessary to get the same amount of energy can prove difficult for most adherents, many opt to get their carb boost from the natural sugars in fruit. While this isn’t terrible, many Paleo dieters rely on dried fruit – which gives you energy in spades, but is bad for your teeth because it tends to stick. So, keep a toothbrush and floss handy if you find yourself overdoing it on dried fruit.
- Excessive Fruit Acid: Lots of fresh fruit means lots of fruit acid – and, that’s bad for tooth enamel. Choose less acidic versions as often as possible, and keep a bottle of water handy to rinse between portions. Also, be sure to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing. Doing so earlier can drive the acids in your mouth deeper into your teeth.
- Lack of Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium and Iron: Paleo fans will find they’re lacking in a few vitamins essential to healthy teeth and bones (not to mention an overall healthy body), and may wish to consider supplementation if on the diet long term. Please know that it can be harmful to over consume some nutrients, especially if you’re already taking a multi-vitamin, so do not supplement without consulting with your physician.
- No Dairy: No yogurt. No cheese. No milk. No exceptions. You’ll find many arguments for and against dairy out there, and for some populations with allergies, or intolerance, it’s something that must be avoided no matter what. The trouble for Paleo dieters, though, is without a medical necessity preventing the consumption of dairy, avoiding this entire food group lessens opportunities for teeth to repair themselves through the natural process of re-mineralization. And while meat does play a role in re-mineralizing, dairy is by far the bigger player.
As you can see, the ancient diet of Paleolithic men and women does contain health benefits. However, it’s not a panacea.
Do your homework, think smart, eat smart, and consider all of your options!