The low-fat diet recommended over the past quarter century is bad for dental health and may be bad for general health as well, according to a report in the Journal of Dental Health.
“The five-alarm fire bell of a tooth ache is difficult to ignore,” said Dr. Philippe Hujoel, author of the report and professor of dental public health services at the University of Washington School of Dentistry in Seattle. Hujoel said dental pain, as much as it hurts, can be a blessing in disguise because it may provide early warning of worse health problems to come.
Hujoel explained that low-fat diets are often high-sugar diets that lead not only to dental problems in the short term, but also may lead to serious chronic diseases in the long term. His report weighed the relationships between dental disease, diet, and chronic systemic illnesses such as obesity. He focused on foods called “fermentable carbohydrates,” so-called because they turn into simple sugars in the mouth. These foods include the obvious, such as cake, candy, etc., but they also include bananas and several other tropical fruits, as well as starchy foods like refined wheat flour, potatoes, rice, corn, and bread.
Hujoel said official guidelines have urged people to make fermentable dietary carbohydrates the foundation of their diet, and to consider dietary fats as evil. Now, however, Hujoel says there are numerous new studies and clinical trials which suggest that diets low in fermentable carbohydrates improve cardiovascular markers of disease and also decrease body fat. On the other hand, he said there may be a deadly link between diets high in fermentable carbohydrates, dental disease, and systemic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and even some forms of cancer.
Hujoel said eating fermentable carbohydrates drops the acidity levels of dental plaque and triggers tooth decay and gingivitis. “Eating these same foods,” he said, “is also associated with spikes in blood sugar levels. There is fascinating evidence that suggests that the higher the glycemic level of a food, the more it will drop the acidity of dental plaque, and the higher it will raise blood sugar. So, possibly, dental decay may really be a marker for the chronic high-glycemic diets that lead to both dental decay and chronic systemic diseases. This puts a whole new light on studies that have linked dental diseases to such diverse illnesses as Alzheimer’s disease and pancreatic cancer.”
Hujoel suggests a simple rule of thumb when planning your diet: “What’s good for your oral health looks increasingly likely to also benefit your overall health.”