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Maintaining healthy, cavity-free teeth requires a careful balancing act of several factors. You must use proper brushing technique and floss daily, but eating a diet that supports remineralization and balances the oral microbiome is even more important. And vitamin K2 foods are the foundation of that diet.
In 1939, dentist Weston K. Price published a body of research that provided the foundational basis for the future of preventive dental care. After years of studying native cultures around the world, Price discovered that those who hadn’t been exposed to modern, Western culture enjoyed long lifespans, few occurrences of disease, and rare instances of cavities or gum disease.
Price attributed these health disparities to traditional diets—namely the fact that the diets of native cultures commonly included foods high in a compound he referred to as “Activator X.” (1) While no one is completely sure what nutrient(s) are included in Price’s “Activator X”, researchers now believe that it was most likely vitamin K2.
Now that we understand how important vitamin K2 is for oral and dental health—particularly as it works synergistically with vitamins A and D3—we have to make sure that we’re getting enough of it on a daily basis.
Although vitamin K2 is a naturally-occurring nutrient made in the gut, the process of converting vitamin K1 to K2 isn’t efficient in humans. It’s only possible, in fact, in a very healthy gut, which few of us have. On the other hand, animals like cows and chickens have an enzyme that easily converts the K1 that they consume from grass and other leafy greens and converts it to K2.
For this reason, I recommend consuming ample amounts of vitamin K2 foods, liked pastured (grass-fed) meats, to keep K2 levels high.
This article will highlight the best vitamin K2 foods so you can ensure that you’re getting enough of this all-important nutrient to support oral and dental health. But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at vitamin K2 and its benefits.
What is Vitamin K2?
Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in small amounts by healthy intestinal bacteria but must be gained primarily from the diet.
Although both are forms are of vitamin K, it wasn’t until the 1970s when Harvard researchers realized vitamin K2 wasn’t just a different form of vitamin K1 with the same benefits. They came to this realization through the discovery of osteocalcin, a vitamin K2-dependent protein that the body needs in order to pull calcium from the bloodstream so it can be redirected to teeth and bones. (2) Without vitamin K2 (and even in the presence of vitamin K1), osteocalcin cannot do its job.
Naturopathic doctor Kate Rheaume-Bleue describes the role of vitamin K2 succinctly in her book, Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: (3)
“Vitamin K2 funnels calcium into bones to strengthen mineral density and fight fractures while it prevents and even removes dangerous arterial calcification. Along the way it has beneficial effects for almost every major health concern of our time, including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, infertility, tooth decay and growing healthy children.”
The principles outlined in Rheaume-Bleue’s book, along with the discoveries of Weston A. Price and a growing body of modern research into the benefits of vitamin K2, show how vital this nutrient is for oral and dental health.
While vitamin D transports invaluable calcium from the bloodstream, it has no ability to decide where it will be deposited. That function is the responsibility of the matrix gla protein (MGP). MGP and osteocalcin, both K2-dependent proteins, locate calcium in soft tissues (including arteries and veins) and distributes them to teeth and bones.
Yet, despite vitamin K2’s significant role in overall health, scientists discovered that most people in modern society are deficient in this nutrient. (4) We simply aren’t eating vitamin K2 foods as often as we should be.
But food sources aren’t the only way to get more of this nutrient into your body. Vitamin K2 exists in both synthetic and naturally-occurring forms, with the most commonly studied form being the synthetic MK4. I don’t recommend supplementing with MK4, however, because It has a short half-life and must be taken three times throughout the day to reap full benefits.
MK7, on the other hand, has a longer shelf and is my go-to for K2 supplements. I also recommend supplementing with MK7 because MK4 is easy to get from pastured poultry and eggs. (3)
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Vitamin K2 Foods for Dental Health
Adding more vitamin K2 foods to your diet can benefit your oral and dental health, in the following ways:
1. Builds New Dentin
K2 activates osteocalcin, which then encourages new dentin (the calcified tissue under the tooth’s enamel) to grow. (5) Working synergistically with vitamins A and D, this creation of dentin results in fewer cavities. (6, 7, 8)
2. Slows Tooth Degradation
Because it directs calcium where it’s supposed to go—out of the bloodstream and into the teeth and bones—most experts agree that K2 can slow down the loss of tooth and bone mass that usually comes with age. In fact, vitamin K2 can actually increase bone mass. (9)
3. Leads to Normal Facial Structure
As first documented by Price, vitamin K2 may be particularly important for the development of the bones and structure of the face. Although the severe version of this, known as maxillonasal dysplasia or “Binder’s syndrome,” is rare, mild versions of it began to appear in Price’s patients once they were exposed to Western diets. (10, 1)
Echoing Price’s findings, I believe it’s the lack of K2 in most mothers’ diets that have led to more frequent needs for braces and other oral interventions. Rheaume-Bleue says it well: “Ensuring activation of all the K2-dependent proteins might be the most important step we can take to safeguard the smiles of our children and grandchildren.” (3)
4. Kills Cavity-Causing Bacteria
The salivary glands are the third-largest storage space for vitamin K2 in the body, after the bones and pancreas. (3) To illustrate this, Price developed an experiment that he repeatedly conducted during his travels. He found that prescribing butter oil, rich in Activator X (believed to be vitamin K2), could eliminate oral bacteria by up to 95 percent and, on occasion, eliminate it altogether. (1)
So what does this mean for you?
Disruptions in the oral microbiome play a major part in cavity formation, so keeping bad bacteria in check by ensuring adequate K2 consumption may be one reason Price’s patients had so few cavities. This was the case even though his patients hadn’t been exposed to modern dental hygiene and, in many case, had never used a toothbrush.
5. Supports Total Body Health
I am a firm believer that what happens in the mouth happens in the body, and Price’s research proved this to be true. It’s not surprising, then, that vitamin K2 isn’t just good for your teeth—it can support health and wellness throughout the body.
Research has documented vitamin K2’s role in treating or preventing the following conditions:
- Heart disease (vitamin K2 is the only nutrient that not only protects from heart disease but can actually reverse the buildup of arterial plaque buildup) (11)
- Osteoporosis (12)
- Alzheimer’s (13)
- Diabetes (14)
- Varicose veins/thrombosis (4)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (15, 16)
- Cancer (17, 18, 19, 20, 21)
- Kidney disease (22)
- Infertility (4)
K2 Deficiency Signs and Symptoms
Although K2-specific blood tests are not yet available in most medical practices, there are some common signs and symptoms that may point to a vitamin K2 deficiency.
These include: (23)
- Are vegan and don’t eat natto or other vitamin K2 foods
- Experience plaque buildup in arteries
- Develop kidney stones
- Frequently get cavities
- Required braces as a child
- Are insulin resistant
- Often break or fracture your bones
- Have varicose veins
While there’s no definitive way to uncover a K2 deficiency without the proper tests, there is no harm in supplementing and/or increasing your intake of vitamin K2 foods. Unlike the restrictions on vitamin K1, there is no known upper limit for K2. In fact, the nutrient-dense vitamin K2 foods below can only aid your health.
Top Vitamin K2 Foods
By consuming the following vitamin K2 foods, you can easily increase your levels of this important nutrient and better support tooth remineralization, while also preventing cavities. In 3.5-ounce portions, the highest vitamin K2 foods are: (3)
- Natto—1103.4 micrograms
- Goose liver pate—369 micrograms
- Hard cheeses—76.3 micrograms
- Soft cheeses—56.5 micrograms
- Goose leg—31 micrograms
- Egg yolk—15.5 micrograms
- Butter—15 micrograms
- Chicken liver (raw)—14.1 micrograms
- Chicken liver (pan-fried)—12.6 micrograms
- Cheddar cheese—10.2 micrograms
While meat and dairy products are typically good sources of vitamin K2, products from factory-farmed animals have significantly lower amounts. These animals aren’t exposed to chlorophyll (from grass-feeding) and, in turn, don’t have ample amounts of K1 to convert to K2.
It may be more expensive, but purchasing grass-fed meat, eggs, and dairy products is the only way to ensure you’re getting enough K2 without supplementing. Conventional sources contain little to no K2.
For vegans who want more K2, the only food source is the best source—natto. This slimy, stinky fermented soy product takes some effort to learn to love, but Rheaume-Bleue shares evidence that eating natto even once every few weeks can provide noticeable benefits for overall health. (4)
Natto is certainly an acquired taste, but even if you are willing to give it a try, it’s nearly impossible to find in the US.
With that in mind, you may also want to consider taking a vitamin K2 supplement. I suggest the MK7 type, since it only needs to be taken once a day and in much smaller quantities than its counterpart, MK4. Most K2 supplements suggest a serving between 90-120 micrograms per day.
Also, for people on medications such as warfarin, who typically have to avoid excess vitamin K, vitamin K2 doesn’t fall under those restrictions. Taking up to 50 micrograms of vitamin K2 in MK7 form has been shown to counteract the medication’s side effects without minimizing its effectiveness. (24)
My Favorite Vitamin K2 Recipes
Ready to jump in your kitchen and get more vitamin K2 foods in your diet? Try these three recipes:
Warm Smoked Gouda and Spinach Dip
Certain cheeses like gouda and brie offer a healthy dose of vitamin K2 because of the bacteria used to culture them. There are other fermented foods like the Japanese soybean dish, natto that contains the highest amount of K2 than any other food. Feel free to try it if you are adventurous (it’s known to be a little slimy), or you can stick with more standard ways to make sure your little ones get their K2. This gouda dip is a delicious kid-friendly dip for celery, carrots or apple slices. If you’re lucky enough to come across goat gouda cheese, you’ll be getting extra K2 in because goats are already raised on vitamin K rich grass diets.
- Prep Time: 7 minutes
- Cook Time: 8 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 1 serving (small bowl) 1x
- 2 tbsp Butter (grass-fed, divided)
- 1/4 cup Onion (chopped, or better a leek)
- 1 dash Black Pepper
- 1/2 cup Spinach (finely chopped)
- 1/2 cup Milk (grass-fed, whole)
- 1 tbsp Arrowroot Powder
- 1 tbsp Water
- 1/4 lb Gouda Cheese (smoked, shredded)
- 2 tsp Salsa Verde (optional, as hot as you can stand)
- On medium-low heat melt 1 teaspoon of the butter and add the onions and salt, cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add rest of butter and stir in spinach, cooking another minute until spinach is wilted.
- Stir in milk and heat for another 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile whisk the arrowroot powder into the water.
- Stir into the milk mixture and add the gouda.
- Stir in the salsa verde and heat until cheese is melted and sauce is thickened, stirring frequently.
Pasture-raised eggs are another delicious and kid-friendly food high in vitamin K2. Poaching offers a perfect way to prepare an egg, where you can cook the whites while leaving the yolk runny. It’s not only delicious but it preserves vital nutrients like cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids intact. Encourage your kids to eat egg yolks early on by mixing them into all sorts of delicious foods like sweet potatoes, squash, avocado, sautéed greens, cauliflower or mashed potatoes. If they just aren’t into having their yolks on the runny side, don’t fret, they’ll still get their vitamin K2 in scrambled or hard-boiled eggs.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 7 minutes
- Total Time: 12 minutes
- Yield: 1 1x
- 1 whole Egg (pasture-raised, cracked and placed in a small dish)
- 1 dash Vinegar (this helps keep the egg white together)
- Bring a saucepan to a rolling simmer and add vinegar.
- Create a gentle whirlpool in the pan of water with the end of a large wooden spoon.
- Carefully place the egg in and cook for 3 minutes.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.
Spiced Cinnamon Buttered Popcorn
Here’s a fun and delicious way to get your kids to eat more vitamin K2 grass-fed butter while avoiding the chemicals of microwave popcorn. Plus, introducing herbs and spices like turmeric and cinnamon into your kid’s diet early on expands their palate as they grow, and adds to the diversity and health of their microbiome. This popcorn is mildly spiced, so feel free to add more if they like it!
Follow these directions to make perfect stovetop popcorn, or use a popcorn maker.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 8 minutes
- Total Time: 13 minutes
- Yield: 4 - 6 servings 1x
- 3 tbsp grass-fed butter
- 1/4 tsp Turmeric
- 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
- 3 tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1/2 cup organic popcorn
- 3 tbsp Sea Salt
- Melt the butter on low in a small pan.
- Once butter is melted, stir in the turmeric, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Heat a 3-quart saucepan to medium-high heat, add coconut oil.
- When oil is hot, add a few popcorn kernels and cover.
- Once those have popped, add the rest of the kernels in an even layer.
- Remove from the heat for 30 seconds and return the pot back to the heat.
- When the popcorn starts to pop, slightly open the lid to let the steam escape and gently move the pan back and forth on the burner to prevent burning.
- Once the pops slow to a few seconds in between, remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl big enough to stir the butter on the popcorn.
- Season with spiced butter and salt.
Healthy teeth should be a high priority for people of all ages. And thanks to research by Dr. Weston A. Price in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as studies in the 1970s, 2007 and beyond, we have discovered that vitamin K2 can help with that.
In conjunction with vitamins D3 and A, as well as calcium, K2 can help build new dentin in teeth, slow tooth degradation, lead to more normal facial and jaw structure, and kill cavity-causing bacteria.
As an added bonus, it may also prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, and infertility. Although it is a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin K2 carries no toxicity concerns, so I typically recommend 90-120 micrograms daily without concern for an upper limit.
Finally, if you want to increase your K2 levels with your diet (which is what I recommend), try vitamin K2 foods like natto (the only vegan option), goose liver pate, hard and soft cheeses, goose leg, egg yolks, butter, chicken liver, and cheddar cheese.
Learn More: The Mouth-Body Connection: 6 Ways Oral Health Impacts Overall Health