As a dentist, I am a strong believer in equipping my patients with the necessary tools and information to treat the root cause of their dental issues, instead of just treating the symptoms. And that is certainly the case when treating cavities.
Many people suffer from dental anxiety, and it’s often related to cavities. Unfortunately, fillings are often the first line of defense against tooth decay, no matter how minimal the decay may be. There are definitely some cavities that require fillings (typically those that are deep enough to reach the nerve, thus causing pain), but I want you to also be aware that you have the power to reverse smaller cavities on your own, at home—and much of that power comes directly from the foods you eat.
Obviously, the best way to treat cavities is to avoid them altogether, and the good news is that the diet that helps to heal existing cavities also helps to prevent new ones from forming.
But before we get into the specific foods that can heal and prevent cavities, let’s first discuss some basics about cavity formation and the role that food plays in that process.
There are four main factors in standard cavity formation:
- Your saliva and its properties—including minerals, volume, pH, and more
- Your oral microbiome—the millions of microbes in your mouth, whether harmful, beneficial, or neutral.
- Your diet—whether or not you’re getting enough of the proper nutrients for remineralization.
- How frequently these three elements create the perfect storm for cavity formation.
The foods you eat on a daily basis have a direct impact on your oral microbiome and saliva, and when you eat the wrong foods (more on those later), you create an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Additionally, the quality of your diet determines whether you are getting the necessary nutrients to support the teeth’s natural remineralization process. The word remineralization refers to the process of restoring minerals to demineralized areas—typically bones, teeth, or any other parts of the body that require certain minerals for their structure.
Your teeth experience a lot of wear and tear, and their ability to continually regenerate allows you to, ideally, keep the same set of teeth for the vast majority of your life. This process requires specific vitamins and minerals, however, and if you’re not getting them from your diet or from supplementation, you may be hindering your teeth’s ability to heal themselves.
Bottom line: You’d probably agree that there are foods that can cause cavities, but you may not have realized that there are foods that can actually prevent and even reverse cavities.
What to Eat to Reverse Cavities
Now, let’s take a closer look at the the specific nutrients your teeth need to reverse cavities, and where to find them in food.
Calcium has long been known to benefit dental health. In addition to providing the (re)building blocks that teeth need on a regular basis, calcium also helps you produce more saliva, putting minerals back onto your teeth that you may have lost from eating. (1)
Most people assume that dairy products like milk and cheese are the best food sources of calcium, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many people who have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, and conventionally-raised dairy products contain hormones and antibiotics that negate any potential mineral benefit. These products should be avoided.
On the other hand, raw, grass-fed milk seems to be more easily tolerated and digested, and it is also higher in mineral count than products sourced from factory-farmed cattle. Surprisingly, seafoods like salmon, oysters, clams, and shrimp are also great sources of calcium, as are plant-based foods like broccoli, greens, nuts, cauliflower, figs, and olives.
Often called the sunshine vitamin (it’s produced by the skin during exposure to the sun), vitamin D actually functions more like a hormone than a traditional vitamin. It controls the body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus, so even if you are supplementing with those minerals in an attempt to improve dental health, your efforts are largely wasted if you’re not also monitoring your levels of vitamin D.
To underscore this fact, a review of a group of clinical trials found that vitamin D was a “promising preventative agent against tooth cavities and decay, which leads to a low-certainty conclusion that vitamin D may reduce the incidence of dental caries.” (2)
Spending time in the sun is the best way to boost vitamin D levels, but vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, egg yolks, and fish like salmon and sardines. (3)
Like vitamin D, vitamin K2 regulates the absorption of minerals in the body. In fact, these two fat-soluble vitamins work in tandem to ensure that teeth have the calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium needed for remineralization.
Vitamin K2 can be found in fermented cod liver oil, egg yolks, chicken liver, and ground beef, as well as organic, grass-fed dairy products like aged cheese (for those who can tolerate dairy).
Magnesium is responsible for numerous processes in the body, including the remineralization of teeth. Magnesium controls the balance of other nutrients in the body—including phosphorus and calcium—which, when left unchecked, can actually promote the demineralization of teeth.
Try including these rich sources of magnesium in your diet: squash seeds, cacao, blackstrap molasses, leafy greens, and avocado.
Adequate phosphorus levels (typically above 3.5) have been shown to protect against tooth decay, but finding sources of phosphorus that actually benefit dental health can be tricky. (4) Phosphorus is present in beans, grains, and nuts, but those foods also contain phytic acid. This is problematic because phytic acid is known to bind to the the nutrients in food, making it difficult for our bodies to actually use them. (5)
The good news is that there are plenty of phytic acid-free sources of phosphorus, including meats, eggs, and dairy products. And without the phytic acid, the phosphorus found in animal proteins may be easier for the body to absorb.
Foods to Avoid to Reverse Cavities
We’ve already clearly defined “remineralization.” To build a growing understanding of healing cavities naturally, we should also clearly define the word “demineralization.”
Merriam-Webster defines demineralization as:
- Loss of bodily minerals (such as calcium salts), especially in disease
- The process of removing mineral matter or salts (as from water)
Tooth decay/demineralization is certainly caused by a deficiency of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs to build healthy teeth. But it can also be caused by eating or drinking substances that can actually deplete the teeth of necessary nutrients.
Since we have created a good, working list of foods that we should eat in order to heal cavities naturally, we should also put together a list of foods to avoid (or greatly limit).
Thanks to a strong push from the media we all know that sugar is bad for your teeth. It’s definitely not the only culprit, though. Here’s a look at the top foods that promote the demineralization of teeth. Essentially, eating these foods on a regular basis makes healing your cavities naturally nearly impossible.
Foods High in Phytic Acid
Phytic acid is a well-known antinutrient that inhibits the absorption of certain nutrients, including minerals that are needed for remineralization, like calcium and magnesium. (6) It is typically found in grains, legumes, and nuts, including:
People are often surprised to hear me say that saltine crackers are one of the worst cavity-causing foods, but it’s true. That’s because they are a simple starch that turns to sugar almost immediately after consumption. That fuzzy feeling on your teeth after you’ve finished eating a handful of crackers? It’s from the millions of harmful bacteria that love to feed on those types of foods, eventually multiplying and causing further tooth decay (and bad breath). Other examples of simple starches include:
- White bread
- White rice
- Goldfish crackers
Sugary Foods and Drinks
Like starchy foods (that ultimately turn to sugar in the body), sugary foods and drinks provide food for the bacteria in the mouth that cause cavities. Additionally, when these nutrient-deficient foods make up a large part of your diet, it’s also likely that you’re not consuming enough of the nutrients your body actually needs. If you’re trying to reverse your cavities, these foods should be avoided:
- Fruit juice
When grapes are converted into raisins, all of the water present in the fruit must be removed. This process concentrates all of the naturally-occuring sugars, which explains why raisins taste so much sweeter than grapes. it also explains why dried fruits are horrible for your teeth. They act like a sticky caramel in the mouth, trapping sugar and sugar-loving bacteria onto the teeth.
Acidic Foods and Drinks
The acid found in the following foods wears away the enamel of teeth and exacerbates decay:
- Orange, lemon and grapefruit juices (These can be highly damaging to your teeth, in one study, decreasing enamel hardness by 84%. Acids found in citrus break down the enamel, sometimes causing irreversible damage.) (7)
- Sports drinks (Not only are they full of sugar, but at least one study has found that they are even more acidic than soda.) (8)
- Energy drinks
- Kombucha (While touted as a “healthy” drink, kombucha has a pH between 3.5 and 2.8—lower than coffee and many sodas, and certainly low enough to dissolve the enamel on teeth.) (9)
Acidic foods and drinks also strip minerals from your teeth (and body), leading to demineralization and decay. However, it would probably be impossible to avoid every single one of these foods all the time. If you can’t resist, (I know how important that morning cup of coffee is to many people) be sure to rinse your mouth with water immediately after consumption.
Final Thoughts: The Best Diet for Remineralization
Foods rich in vitamin D, vitamin K2, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus will help your teeth remineralize and stave off cavities, while also helping to reverse any current cavity formation through remineralization.
When eating acidic and/or sugary foods, remember to think about it wisely. You should try rinsing your mouth after eating these types of foods whenever possible, and minimize your intake.
The bottom line is this: Avoiding sugary sodas and candies is just one way to slow down the demineralization process. Adopting the best diet for remineralization also includes focusing on eating the right foods, and being aware of the potential consequences of many other foods groups.
Dr. Mark Burhenne
As always, please feel free to leave a comment below. I read each and every single one!read next: Reversing Tooth Decay and Healing Cavities Naturally: Top Questions Answered