Tooth decay is a serious problem in both young and old. Prevention of this dental malady is a problem that has baffled scientists for the last century or longer.
What are some of the causes of tooth decay? Are bacteria a primary cause of dental caries? Some kinds of bacteria may not affect the teeth, while others do.
Some individuals escape tooth decay while others are affected by it. Tooth decay is considered a disease of the young rather than of older individuals. What could be the factors that make some persons immune and others susceptible to tooth decay?
Professor E. V. McCollum maintains that “in caries the enamel becomes disintegrated and breaks down in a manner similar to what we should expect if acid were constantly applied to the surface at one point.”
The importance of correct diet is emphasized by the fact that the calcification of the first set of teeth begins between the fourth and fifth month of pre-natal life. Calcification of the first permanent molars shows tremendous increase in the last third of pregnancy, and this immediately points to the fact that the pregnant mother must live on a diet that is rich in the minerals that form bones and teeth.
The teeth of primitive peoples have been studied by many authorities. One early American authority, Weld (1795), in his book on Manners and Customs in Philadelphia, stated: “American-born men and women have decayed teeth at an early age. Negroes and Indians have sound teeth.” Another author, Catlin, in his book The Breath of Life written in 1861, claims that he found perfect and beautiful sets of teeth in Indian skulls of adults and children.
Another authority, Hrdlicka (1908), reported that the Indians of the Southwest United States suffered from tooth decay but that it was not so prevalent as among white men, and that the teeth of Eskimos were fonnd to be better than in any large group of people living today. Atofy- quoted by Howe, examined the teeth of Igoro children and found that 68 per cent had perfect teeth and 32 per cent had slight decay.
Wells in 1900, quoted by Howe, reported that the Scotch Islanders were comparatively free from tooth decay. Those of the lowlands had more decay because their diet contained much refined starchy foods and sugar.
Ancient rich Egyptians showed signs of tooth decay. Their diet was more refined than the diets of the lower classes who lived on coarse uncooked foods.
Dr. L. R. Sullivan of the American Museum of Natural History and Dr. A. G. Chappe. examined prehistoric Hawaiian skulls and found that nearly all the skulls of individuals over 40 years of age showed gum cavities of the teeth. The principal food of Hawaiians was poi, made of the taro root, which is low in calcium and phosphorous, the minerals that are necessary to good teeth and bone structure.
Rumsey, in 1921, believed diet to be important in relation to tooth decay. Seccomb (1921) believed that the presence of excessive amounts of sugar and starch in the diet predisposes to tooth decay.
Overingestion of sugar causes fermentation, with the result that an acid ash forms in the blood. Since the blood must nourish the teeth, the latter are affected by excessive amounts of sugar wastes in the blood-stream. In 1923 Dr. Rypins examined 1192 children of pre-school age (3 to 6) and found that 27 per cent had caries, an average of one to each mouth. Cross in 1923 showed that 96 per cent of American children had defective teeth. Children coming from Southern Europe had sound teeth. In those years, European children hardly knew of toothbrushes until they landed in this country.
Dr. P. S. Schenk gave data to Professor E. V. McCollum relative to conditions of the teeth of white and colored children in Norfolk, Virginia: “A very small percentage of Negro children had dental defects. Negro children eat cabbage, turnips, and other vegetables as soon as they can. They do not have the fancy foods that white children of the South are accustomed to having. The diets of the white children were obviously deficient in lime, phosphorus, iron, as well as other tooth-building minerals.”
Dr. J. A. Murphy of Washington, D. C., between 1916 and 1923, reported on 47,744 white pupils in the public schools, 83 per cent of whom had tooth decay. The same scientist found that 88.3 per cent of colored children had tooth decay. Evidently the colored children had adopted the habits of the white population.
Dr. D. J. McDonald of the Island of Lewis, Scotland, informed us that the inhabitants of that island, who lived on coarse porridge, bread made from oats, barley, potatoes, eggs, fish, milk, tea, and even sugar, had sound teeth. The younger as well as the older people on this comparatively unprocessed and unrefined diet had good teeth while the inhabitants of Glasgow, who used more refined food products, had tooth decay.
Preservation of the teeth is possible on scientifically balanced diets. We know today that a balanced diet must be built around a high percentage of raw fruits and vegetables in daily bills of fare.
White-flour products, white sugar, and even brown sugar and pastries, must be reduced in the daily habit of eating. Numerous authorities have been stressing for the last two or three decades that fresh raw fruits and raw vegetables must be used in larger amounts, but that less cake, cookies, bread and soft drinks should be included in dietaries for better body chemistry and better tooth structure.
Authorities found that diet in the prenatal feeding of mothers affects the general health as well as the tooth structure of the newborn.
Among the experimental studies of M. Mellanby (1918), the formation and calcification of teeth in the dog was studied. He found that foods containing Vitamin A have a powerful effect on normal calcification of the teeth. Deficiency of Vitamin A in the diet resulted in poorly calcified jaw bones and alveolar processes. The teeth in poorly calcified and mineralized dogs were irregular. There was delay in the eruption of permanent teeth. There was also abnormal development of the tissues surrounding the tooth structure. Dietaries deficient in butter and other Vitamin A-containing foods, but abundant in cereals, resulted in bad teeth. The dog is not unlike man in anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry.
Foods rich in Vitamin C and D are also essential to normally healthy tooth formation.
Professor H. C. Sherman claimed that over 99 per cent calcium and phosphorus is required by the teeth and bones. The soft tissues require less than 1 per cent.
The facts stated above prove that some authorities in every decade have been seriously concerned with prevention of tooth decay. Modern dentistry is a perfect science for filling teeth, replacing teeth and extracting teeth, as well as reconstructing “bites” and mouths. Dentistry is indeed an art as well as a science.
For me the main interest lies in methods of preventing tooth decay. It is good to be able to report that when young children are feel correctly they are free from dental caries. I have had under observation a number of individuals who never had any tooth decay until they began to consume sugar–containing foods.
One boy had not eaten any ice cream or pastry up to the age of 12. He had no tooth decay. His diet had consisted of fresh raw salad, milk, cheese, fruits, very few cooked vegetables, no meat, and eggs on an average of one a day. He had no tooth decay until he began to use his spending money for candy store sweets.
A balanced diet for young children should include a quart of milk a day in addition to an egg and some cheese. The growing skeleton and muscular systems require more protein than does the adult body. Milk and other dairy proteins supply tooth and bone minerals.
The raw vegetables are excellent sources of the minerals that make strong teeth and bones.
The tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body. When germs and acid saliva break down the enamel in decay, the blood-stream and other vital fluids surrounding the cells of the teeth and gums are saturated with acid wastes. These acid wastes are by-products of white flour, white sugar, and other modern foods containing these products. If children were trained to eat raw salads and raw fruits, they would not buy candy bars, cakes and soft drinks.
In some European countries children are provided by the schools with fresh raw apples rather than candy for recess snacks.
The pastry shop and the candy store in the school neighborhood must be eliminated and replaced with produce stores carrying fresh raw fruits.
Good health must be built by the inculcation of proper food habits during the early formative years of the individual. Healthful foods must replace disease-building foods. Then it would not be necessary to indulge in such public hygiene and sanitation measures as fluoridation of municipal water supplies. It would be better to supply sound information to parents, as well as to the children themselves, on scientifically correct food intake in order to prevent tooth decay and other diseases.
Any dietary that produces healthy teeth will also produce healthy nerves, good muscles, strong bones, and resistance to diseases that are caused by pathogenic bacteria. A chemically healthy body can never be attacked by the germs that cause polio or any of the less serious germ-caused diseases.