This past summer, yours truly vacationed in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home to the World Famous Dollywood. If you’re looking for a great amusement park and out of this world barbecue, I’d highly recommend the area for a family vacation. I bring this up, because Pigeon Forge is along the Appalachian Trail, the iconic hike which stretches from Georgia to Maine, and when it comes to oral health, the inhabitants of Appalachia have been in the news recently.
There is growing concern in the Appalachian region over a condition going by the name “Mountain Dew” mouth. It is apparently quite common for folks of Applalachia to sip soda, and especially Mountain Dew, continuously through the day. Mountain Dew was actually invented in Tennessee, and so there is a lot of hometown pride around the drink, and the culture of sipping this drink all day long is pervasive. Kids simply love the greenish yellow stuff.
Mountain Dew is a highly caffeinated, loaded with sugar, citric acid laden beverage. While the public well knows and understands the link between sugar and cavities, the role of citric acid in causing cavitys is less understood. Citric acid, a preservative that enhances flavor and shelf life in soda, is essentially an acid, and when contacting teeth, leads to erosion of enamel and the start of a cavity. Mountain Dew is not the only culprit – energy drinks such as powerade and gatorade, as well as citrus juices (orange juice), and other sodas are also loaded with citric acid.
As a result of this consumption, the incidence of cavities in the the Appalachian region is significantly higher than that of the national population. Some 26 percent of preschoolers in the region have tooth decay, and 15 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have had a tooth extracted because of decay or erosion. With an inadequate number of dentists in the area, there is a huge barrier to accessing quality dental care, and as a result, children are being left untreated.
This is a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive soda consumption, and it would behoove all of us to promote a more healthy ‘drinking’ lifestyle in our families.
Overheard on the radio this morning was a fascinating piece on the ‘microbiome’. The microbiome is basically all the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on our bodies, and researchers are slowly coming around to the realization that all these living organisms play a crucial part in ensuring that we are healthy.
The mouth, in fact, has hundreds of different kinds of bacteria, some of which is ‘good’ bacteria, necessary for helping with digestion and for priming our immune system. Other ‘bad bacteria’ such as streptococcus mutans produces acid in the presence of carbohydrates which leads to the development of cavities. Porphyromonas gingivalis is the bacteria found to cause periodontal disease. Interestingly enough, the tongue, the crevices of your teeth, the cheek and even the roof of the mouth all harbor different kinds of bacteria.
Harmful bacteria in the mouth can lead to a heightened perpetual state of chronic inflammation and heightened immune response. Both are not good, and the presence of certain bacteria in the mouth can act as initiators or even markers of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, alzheimers and even heart disease. Like we were taught in dental school, the mouth is the window into one’s overall general health.
So getting back to the title of this piece. A Paleo Diet, commonly known as the caveman diet, eschews processed food, dairy products and refined carbohydrates (ie. the diet of a child), and subsists mostly of fresh meats, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed). Skulls of our first ancestors reveal a significant lack of dental disease, both cavities and periodontal disease, are not present, and the current school of thought is that it was their diet which prevented these contemporary diseases.
Our dietary shift to include more carbohydrates, lead to a gradual but definite change in our digestive system microbiome, including the mouth. It doesn’t take much to imagine that this continuous change in our microbiome has some effect on our health.
Proponents of a paleo diet contend that hunter-gatherers typically were free from the chronic illnesses and diseases that are epidemic in Western populations, including:
- Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, etc.)
- Myopia (nearsightedness), macular degeneration, glaucoma
Granted, our ancestors faced other kinds of dangers, such as high infant mortality and a general lack of healthcare (and obviously low healthcare costs!) which made treatable illnesses/accidents a death sentence. But it is an interesting hypothesis that it is our modern day diet which is contributing to some of the chronic diseases of today.
While we are certainly not suggesting that one shift to a caveman diet (and we personally can’t live without our carbohydrate rich treats!), there is a takeaway message – We Are What We Eat or rather, We Are What Our Bacteria Eat.
The kids are back at school (mostly) and we’ve been on a little summer blogging hiatus. But we’re back! Some of us have been super busy over the summer, including our friend Mariah (who happens to be the daughter of our fantastic assistant Kris!) who recently got her braces on. Just in time to be styling them at school. She was super psyched to get them on, showing that getting your braces on is as easy as pie. So for anybody nervous about getting your braces put on, no worries – Mariah’s smile is proof positive that it is easy and painless. By the way, we love her T-Shirt.