“Paleo” Diet Wasn’t So Kind to Ancient Teeth

SAN FRANCISCO- The popular “paleo” diet returns its followers to a primal regimen of proteins, veggies, berries and tubers. Dieters report improved health, but research confirms the fare wasn’t so kind to ancient teeth.

Louise Humphrey is a paleo-anthropologist with the Natural History Museum in London. She observed the remains of about 50 people in the “Cave of Pigeons” in Morocco, where Stone Age residents lived and died thousands of years ago.

The horrid condition of the subjects’ teeth shocked Humphrey. Nearly 95 percent of the specimens studied exhibited extensive tooth decay. Many teeth were reduced to “polished roots” which likely caused horrible pain, she reported.

“I was quite surprised by that,” said Humphrey. “I haven’t seen that extent of caries in other ancient populations.”

The rampant tooth decay was pinned on the cave families’ unique interpretation of the paleo diet. Evidence found in the cave pointed to a fondness for chewy snails and crunchy acorns that left a sticky residue on teeth.

Considering our paleolithic predecessors lived in a culture void of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss or dentistry, it’s no surprise their teeth were less than dazzling. However, the evidence of cavities contradicts scientific beliefs about the dawn of tooth decay.

Because grains convert to sugars that attack the tooth’s protective enamel layer, most scientists theorize grain-free paleolithic diets were inherently healthy, and it wasn’t until hunters/gatherers introduced breads into the diet that tooth decay emerged. Humphrey’s findings challenge these assumptions.

It may be too late to help the ancient Cave of Pigeons residents, but we can take away a few lessons from their dental health woes.

“I think this research confirms the importance of good dental hygiene,” says Dr. Robert Walley, a dentist in San Francisco. “There are foods that are more beneficial to oral health than others, but without proper brushing, flossing and professional care, any food can cause decay.”

As we all know, the modern rendition of the paleolithic diet has improved upon munching on acorns and snails. Paired with proper oral hygiene, the limited sugar and carbohydrate intake proves advantageous for teeth and gums. Prolonged exposure to sugar and carbohydrates (such as sipping on soda or snac king on chips all day) without good hygiene practices will increase your risk for decay.

Vitamins and minerals from the diet’s berries and fresh vegetables also promote strong dental health.

Do you have questions about the impact of certain foods on your teeth? Ask us at your next appointment. Dr. Walley and our talented staff posses the expertise to identify and resolve threats to your oral wellbeing. At Robert M. Walley, D.D.S., our goal is to provide you with the right tools to enjoy a lifetime of good dental health. To learn more, contact our San Francisco office today.