Tooth Decay and the Paleo Child

Tooth Decay and the Paleo Child - The Paleo Diet™Cavities remain one of the most prevalent chronic diseases of childhood.1  Nationwide, dentists are seeing an increasing number of preschoolers, at all income levels, with 6 to 10 cavities or even more.  The level of decay is often so severe that they recommend using general anesthesia2 to perform the necessary procedures to repair the teeth, which can even mean root canals for these young children.  Despite the use of fluoride and improvements in preventive dentistry, the burden of dental caries remains unacceptably high worldwide.3

Which raises the question, can the Paleo Diet prevent tooth decay in your child’s mouth?

Dental caries (tooth decay and cavities) are related to three essential interactive factors: teeth and saliva; the oral microbial flora; and the type of diet consumed.

The first factor is under strong genetic control.  In fact, research is showing a key genetic role in overall oral health.  Specifically, twin studies have provided evidence that inheritance impacts susceptibility of dental caries.4  Further, genetic variation of enamel formation genes may influence calcium and magnesium concentrations of teeth and impact the development of caries5.  However, these genetic predispositions are readily influenced, potentially positively or negatively, by both the microbiota and diet.

For better or worse, our mouths are filled with bacteria, and research in this area is still in its infancy.  A large number of species that reside in the oral microbiota have yet to be identified.  An estimated 750 different species are anticipated.6,7,  These bacteria are resilient and have evolved the skills to survive, despite the constant assaults that occur from eating, salivating, tooth brushing, tongue movement, and flossing, all of which work to eradicate them.8

For the most part, bacteria police each other and most strains do not lead to actual tooth decay.9  However, studies suggest that the diversity and complexity of the microbial biota in dental plaque are significantly less in children with severe early-childhood caries compared to cavity free children.10  This finding suggests that discovering ways to promote a healthy, varied oral microbiota would be beneficial, such as through a natural enzyme- and probiotic-rich Paleo Diet.

The increase in the incidence of dental caries correlates with the rise of civilization, specifically, with the rise in consumption of processed foods.  Several archaeological and historical works have confirmed the relationship between high caries frequencies and the increase of carbohydrates intake.11  Generally, hunter-gatherers show low caries frequencies whereas groups subsisting on foods sourced from gardens and farms show higher caries rates.12

There is a clear relationship between sugars and caries.13  Sugars, both refined and simple carbohydrates, are recognized as by far the most important dietary factor in the development of dental caries.  The acidic fermentation of sugars by bacteria in the mouth causes dissolution of the enamel on teeth.14  Consequently, the Paleo Diet, inherently a low-sugar diet, can help minimize the instances of dental caries in children.

One cannot overemphasize the importance of better oral hygiene as a safe, effective barrier to oral infections.  However, as many frustrated parents know, children who brush frequently and have good oral hygiene can still develop chronic infections and tooth decay due to the composition of resident microbiota and changes in the body’s immune response.

15Poor diet and constant snacking in between the times children brush can lead to carries.  Every time we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starch, our oral bacteria use them to produce acids that eat away at the tooth’s enamel.  These acid attacks cause the tooth to lose minerals and eventually encourage the development of cavities.

So following the Paleo Diet is a simple solution to improve your child’s oral health and to reduce their incidence of dental caries.

[1]  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Oral health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. DHS, Rockville, MD. 2000.

[2] Available at: Accessed on November 12, 2015.

[3]  Sheiham, Aubrey, and W. Philip T. James. A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake. BMC public health 14.1 (2014): 863.

[4]  Boraas, J. C., L. B. Messer, and M. J. Till. A genetic contribution to dental caries, occlusion, and morphology as demonstrated by twins reared apart. Journal of dental research 67.9 (1988): 1150-1155.

[5]  Halusic, Alina M., et al. Calcium and Magnesium Levels in Primary Tooth Enamel and Genetic Variation in Enamel Formation Genes. Pediatric dentistry36.5 (2014): 384-388.

[6]  Jenkinson H.F. Lamont R.J. Oral microbial communities in sickness and in health. Trends Microbiol.2005;13:589–595[7] Paster B.J. Olsen I. Aas J.A. Dewhirst F.E. The breadth of bacterial diversity in the human periodontal pocket and other oral sites. Periodontol 2000. 2006;42:80–87.

[8] Senadheera D. Cvitkovitch D.G. Quorum sensing and biofilm formation by Streptococcus mutans. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008;631:178–188.

[9] Avila, Maria, David M. Ojcius, and Özlem Yilmaz. The oral microbiota: living with a permanent guest. DNA and cell biology 28.8 (2009): 405-411.

[10] Li, Y., et al. Genetic profiling of the oral microbiota associated with severe early-childhood caries. Journal of clinical microbiology 45.1 (2007): 81-87.

[11]  Larsen, C.S., Shavit, R. & Griffin, M.C. (1991). Dental Caries Evidence for Dietary Change: An Archaeological Context. In: Advances in dental anthropology. Kelley, M.A. & Larsen, C.S. (Eds.). pp.179–202. Wiley-Liss, New York

[12] Hillson, S.W. (2001). Recording dental caries in archaeological human remains. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11: 249–289.

[13] Sheiham, Aubrey, and W. Philip T. James. A reappraisal of the quantitative relationship between sugar intake and dental caries: the need for new criteria for developing goals for sugar intake. BMC public health 14.1 (2014): 863.

[14] Moynihan P: The interrelationship between diet and oral health. Proc Nutr Soc 2005, 64:571-580. 

[15] Loesche, Walter J., and Natalie S. Grossman. Periodontal disease as a specific, albeit chronic, infection: diagnosis and treatment. Clinical microbiology reviews 14.4 (2001): 727-752.


About Stephanie Vuolo

Stephanie VuoloStephanie Vuolo is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, an American College of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer, and a Certified CrossFit Level 1 Coach. She has a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. She is a former contributor to Discovery Communications/TLC Blog, Parentables.

Stephanie lives in Seattle, WA, where she is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for how diet and lifestyle can contribute to overall wellness and longevity. She has been raising her young daughter on the Paleo Diet since birth. You can visit her website at

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