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 are, however, a few others gaining speed, including vegan, slow-carb and Paleo. All of these diets have negatives and plusses, and generally speaking, 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 let’s look at The Paleo Diet®.
What is The Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet takes its lead from the 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. Let’s see how the Paleo plan stacks up when it comes to your teeth.
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 be consuming, getting the 22-34 grams a day recommended 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. This is one reason why celery is great for teeth – it’s like built-in floss!
- 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. Muscles, too, thrive on potassium, so if you’re an athlete, or just someone who likes to remain active, you’ll likely notice the boost you’re getting from higher numbers of fruits and vegetables.
- 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. Not a bad deal.
- 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 the 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: Carbohydrates provide the fuel our bodies need to function, and the majority of us meet those needs with grains first, and vegetables second. However, since The Paleo Diet avoids grains, and consuming the larger volumes of vegetables necessary to get the same amount of energycan prove difficult for most adherents, many opt to get their carb boost from the natural sugars in fruit.
While this isn’t a terrible idea (fruitarians, for example, consume only fruit), many Paleo dieters rely on dried fruit – which give you energy in spades, but are bad for your teeth because they tend 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. Not good!|
- Lack of Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium and Iron: While supplements can appear to solve just about any nutrient deficiency, any doctor or nutritionist will also tell you there’s nothing like getting your nutrition in its original package. 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 has to 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 does lessen 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.
Justin Rader DDS, Generations Dental