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Carbs And Cavities – How Does Your Diet Affect Your Dental Health?
by Helen Richards
Look away now if you’re grossed out by teeth! If you can bear to read on, however, you’re ahead of the game when it comes to dental health. Few people realize just how important it is to have a healthy mouth. Our mouths are the largest and most obvious route to our insides that we possess. Having a mouth festering with bacteria and other such nasties massively enhances the chances of such harmful microbes getting into your internal organs and causing serious problems . Now, most of us are vaguely aware that sugar can cause tooth decay , but beyond this we don’t tend to think of our diet as something which is a major contributory factor towards dental health. So long as we maintain reasonable dental hygiene, we think, we’re doing all we can to keep our mouths and teeth healthy. Well, as it happens, some diets do in fact put you at far greater risk of dental problems than others – and a high carb diet is among the worst where your mouth is concerned.
The immediate source of most tooth decay is the pervasive and corrosive presence of a substance known as ‘plaque’. Admittedly, good dental hygiene and a reasonable dental insurance plan  should help to prevent plaque-related problems from getting out of hand – but it’s still wise to understand that some diets cause more plaque than others. Plaque is a sticky film of congealed sugars and bacteria which clings to the surface of teeth. If it’s allowed to build up, it turns into tartar, which is a rather nasty (and frequently rather solid) accumulation of sugars, bacteria, and general mouth-waste. Deeply unpleasant. Plaque and tartar are also extremely corrosive, and will attack the enamel of the tooth over time – leading to decay. However, plaque requires carbohydrates in order to form. It therefore stands to reason that a diet lower in carbohydrates will make it harder for plaque to form .
Of course, our ancestors did not brush their teeth with toothpaste twice a day – so how did they keep their teeth from succumbing to plaque? Well, when you get right back to our evolutionary roots, it’s worth noting that we ate a lot of crunchy fruits and vegetables which did not leave much residue upon our teeth. Many things have plaque-forming carbohydrates in them – but refined carbohydrates tend to be softer and cling more to teeth than the carbs found in, say, carrots and apples. Breads, candies, batter – all of these things sink into our teeth and settle there (requiring the use of tooth picks and a dedicated brushing regime). Our ancestors, however, ate a diet far, far lower in refined carbs, and thus had no need for toothpastes and floss. Indeed, due to their crunchy, tooth-cleaning diet, many scientists believe that our prehistoric forbears actually had far healthier teeth than we do today !
A Cautionary Word
However, before you ditch your toothbrush and take up a bunch of carrots, it’s worth noting one thing: the drastic weight loss which many people experience while on a low-carb diet often comes about as a result of a process known as ‘ketosis’ . This occurs when the body breaks down stored carbs in order to fuel itself. As such carbs are usually stored in fat, this tends to result in a shrinking waistline – but comes at a bit of a price. Lots of people have noted that their breath begins to smell bad while they’re in ketosis. The smell comes from ‘ketones’, which are by-products of the carb-breakdown your body is undertaking. The ketones are eliminated by the body through urination and exhalation. Unfortunately, being carb-products, the ketones on your breath can stick to the back of your teeth and form plaque – so you’re not completely home and dry while on a low-carb diet! But don’t worry – ketone plaque is easy to eliminate, and you can feel comforted in the knowledge that you’re not adding to your mouth’s troublesome store of refined-carb bacteria from the outside!
Helen Richards works as a writer and editor, she’d spent most of her working life prior to this as a nutrition and fitness expert, with a focus on young men and women who suffered with varying degrees of Eating Disorders. She’s now a full time mom to two children of her own and fits in her article writing round her family life!
 Cell Press, “Connection between mouth bacteria, inflammation in heart disease”, Science Daily, Apr 2015
 Margaret Zarrabi, “The Surprising Relationship Between Sugar and Tooth Decay”, PR Newswire, Nov 2013
 Q, “Dental Health”
 Humana, “How to reduce dental plaque”
 Rose Eveleth, “Prehistoric Humans Had Better Teeth Than We Do”, Smithsonian, Feb 2013
 James McIntosh, “Ketosis: What Is Ketosis?”, Medical News Today, Oct 2015