I was going to eat chocolate last Wednesday, either way.
If I successfully healed my cavities, I’d enjoy some in celebration (and in moderation).
If I failed at curing tooth decay, I was going to have a good old-fashioned American pity party – drowning my sorrows in food.
As it turns out, I’ve been eating lots of chocolate over the past week and talking about my teeth a LOT.
No one should talk about teeth this much.
But when the answer is as clear as my son’s vocabulary word this week, it’s time to dig in and learn more.
Fancy word for “not sure yet, unclear.”
What Happened to My Cavities?
If you remember from the anti-cavity plan, I had two cavities, one small one in the enamel and one deeper, into the dentin, both between teeth.
The local dentist wanted to fill them, but of course, I bucked the system and resisted.
I told him I wanted to try to heal my cavities with nutrition.
He looked at me funny but didn’t say outright that I was a kook, so I figured we were on pretty good terms.
For 3 months, I added or increased certain things in my diet and habits:
- 2 c. or more raw milk (plus my regular daily yogurt and plenty of cheese)
- Grassfed butter
- Fish 1x/week or more
- 5000 IUs Vitamin D
- Oil pulling
- Brushing teeth with Earthpaste and Orawellness blend and brush, 2x/day
- I cooked Desiccated Liver capsules (to get grass-fed beef more than usual; organ meats highly recommended by Dr. Price and the Cure Tooth Decay book) a few times and took Perfect
- Ancient Minerals Oil
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil
- Butter Oil (makes cod liver oil more effective, Vitamin K)
And for the last 50 days or so, I also omitted foods that are high in phytic acid, like:
- all grains
- all legumes
- all nuts and seeds
I also cut all sweeteners from my diet, including natural ones like honey and maple syrup.
I went back to get X-rays to see what had happened to my teeth.
I would have been happy with the slightest of improvement, for the dentist to say that I was on the right path as far as he could tell.
I was secretly hoping they would be 100% gone, a dental miracle, and I could real-food-evangelize the dentist and his staff, who would be amazed at what I was able to accomplish.
(cue angels singing)
Turn the angels off.
That’s not what happened.
My X-rays Were…
…exactly the same.
The more I read about teeth and remineralization during that cavity-healing attempt between X-rays, the more I realized that “the same” was going to be a very viable possibility.
The consensus is that teeth cannot actually regrow, so a “healed cavity” most likely will still look like a hole in the tooth – it’s just harder.
Since my cavities were both between the teeth, there is no way for the dentist to check the solidity of the spot with an explorer.
So we would likely be comparing equivalent X-rays, whether I succeeded in my goal or not.
Like I said – lovely ambiguity.
But honestly, when I was getting the images ready for this post and switching back and forth between them on the same screen – I swear the April X-rays looked better than the January X-rays. But I have such an untrained eye! I’ll see if I can have another dentist look at them before the series is over and see what s/he thinks.
See what happened next, and check out the X-rays from later than year in December!!!
The Dentist, The Cheerleader, and The Zealot
I mentioned I’d been talking wayyyy too much about my teeth lately, and it’s true.
I had a great conversation with my dentist, Dr. VanderLaan, after he compared and evaluated the X-rays, and I learned a lot.
I interviewed Dr. Judene Benoit, 2nd generation dentist and author of How to Stop Cavities for half an hour and left feeling like I’d love to take her advice and celebrate my X-rays, but still a little confused.
Then I talked with Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, for over an hour and hung up feeling…well, hungry actually. I missed dinner. But also a bit incredulous, which we’ll get into later.
I find it fascinating (and you will too) how their perspectives on my cavities and overall dental health both intersected and diverged at various places. I have so much information that this update will have to be a series for sure, coming at you about once a week until I run out of notes.
For today, let’s take the view at forty thousand feet and get the gist of what’s going on in my mouth, from the mouths of three experts in the field.
Note: Unless I use quotation marks, I’m just paraphrasing from our conversations and interactions, not directly quoting.
Question 1: Did I have a cavity?
Dr. VanderLaan’s view: Since he wanted to fill them, he thinks “yes.” On my first visit, when the X-rays came back with holes in my teeth, I pressed for more information, and he did admit that the smaller one, the one in the enamel, could remineralize.
He did not expect anything good to happen to the larger one but acquiesced that it was my mouth, and certainly he would support anything I wanted to try.
Dr. Judene: I think Dr. Judene would also say “yes,” but with a big caveat.
Her dental textbooks, which she held up on screen a few times in our interview, say that to properly diagnose a cavity, one must have two X-rays to compare to see change, decay getting worse or a cavity getting larger. That would be a real diagnosis of an active cavity – so on one X-ray, Dr. Judene would not have said for sure if my cavities were active or arrested.
More below on why calling the cops on your teeth could be a good thing!
Ramiel Nagel: Maybe. Or not.
“Seeing one spot on an X-ray to me is not a good justification.”
Nagel says it’s normal that teeth are designed to be worn down, that they have pits and grooves and stuff, “dental erosion” from the damage of a lifetime. “Your dentist exaggerated that you had an active cavity, because only active cavities are what needs to be filled. You didn’t have one.”
He would want to see two X-rays to compare or another sign, such as pain when chewing, before even considering there to be an active cavity.
Instead of a dentist saying “that’s a normal indent” or it could be caused by pregnancy, etc. they’re calling it a cavity always.
“Whatever the reason, the tooth got stressed out and developed a hole, and now it’s an opportunity to make money. The system is so diseased and it’s hard for people to get how bad it is.”
He thinks that if I went to a dental professor and asked, “Does this need to be filled?” they would probably say no, not on one X-ray.
Question 2: Is it healed or healing?
Dr. VanderLaan: He said that in just three months, while we could have seen a change as a result of further decay, he wouldn’t really expect it. But it would be hard to see improvement at this point, no matter what.
We’ll take more X-rays in a year, and “If they stay the same every year that is as good as healing them, in my opinion.”
She uses the word “healed” because it’s more familiar to people and makes sense, but the proper dental term is “arrested decay.” And it’s a good thing!
Question 3: Did anything I tried between X-rays help?
I am nothing if not humble, people…I didn’t even think to put makeup on before dashing to the dentist’s but still took this selfie at the last minute, realizing, “Hey, I’m a blogger. I should be taking pictures of this for my post!” Do me a favor and pretend my hair and makeup are actually done? Thanks.
Dr. VanderLaan: The hygienist and I were both pretty excited to see the results of my X-rays, I think, as I was the first patient to come in for something like this with a laundry list of things I’d done to heal my cavities. Dr. V. said I am the only patient he’s ever had to speak the word “remineralization.” I like being different.
As exciting as it seemed, it was a bit of a let-down for me, but exactly what Dr. VanderLaan expected, when the X-rays were identical.
“Remineralization can happen, but to my best knowledge it only really happens via topical/extrinsic actions.” Teeth cannot be healed/affected in any way from the inside of our bodies.
He hadn’t read my first cavity post, but he addressed my main point nonetheless: Teeth are different than bones – teeth are acellular and anervous. Nerves are present inside the pulp tissue in the center, but not throughout the tooth and they do not regrow or change. Bones are constantly being remodeled by osteoclasts (bone “eating”) and osteoblasts (bone creating). So bones are living and teeth (the hard parts of them at least) are non-living.
“You have done a great job of either completely remineralizing your cavities or keeping them as very slowly progressing as a worst case scenario. You should be really proud of yourself, especially for not having any progression of the cavity that is slightly into dentin, and in-between the teeth – a VERY challenging cavity to remineralize. You are doing great!!”
Instead, I felt he backpedaled a little bit on his book: “Assuming you metabolize food well, diet constantly remineralizes or demineralizes teeth.”
He said the avoiding grains isn’t, “You have to eat this way all the time to avoid tooth decay,” but rather, “This is how you dig yourself out of a big hole.”
I guess in that light I may have gone overboard on my anti-cavity diet, but he still maintained that grains are bad for oral and overall health, and also that chocolate is very bad for gum disease, many things point to problems with teeth.
I tried to muffle the sounds of chocolate wrappers skipping daintily across my desk in the background, the result of too many late nights that same week.
And then Nagel started talking about stress and the importance of sleep. Uh oh.
Question 4: What’s my risk of further tooth decay?
Dr. VanderLaan: We didn’t really talk about this explicitly, but he said we can simply continue to monitor and take more X-rays at my next regular appointment in a year: “I am open to seeing what happens. The smaller one is in the enamel only- this can remineralize. The larger cavity is more questionable.”
Then we celebrate more, because that spot, that “healed” or “arrested” cavity, has no more chance of becoming an active cavity than any other random spot in my mouth. It may even be slightly less susceptible to decay because remineralized cavities can become stronger than ever.
In her father’s practice, some patients have had arrested cavities for literally decades. (That’s so cool!)
He said, “You don’t have ideal circumstances – breastfeeding, stress, etc. For me, if you’re not having cavities or having it stable, neutral, you’re doing great!”
We circled back to the basic concept of teeth healing, and he explained that the inside of the tooth has dentin fluid that constantly is circulating, and the fluid is what nourishes the tooth. When we get stressed, there’s less fluid in our teeth for some people.
He remains convinced that both enamel and dentin of teeth can repair and heal themselves, and that they can also be impacted not only by what we eat, but by our stress and sleep as well. I think he would say that if my circumstances don’t change in some way – I still have four kids, a blog to run, real food to cook 3x/day, and am writing this post in the middle of the night – that I’m at great risk for gum disease and resulting tooth decay.
Question 5: How will I know if the cavity is getting worse or better?
Dr. VanderLaan: X-ray proof. His hygienist seemed worried that I might allow the cavity to get to a dangerous point where major problems could arise, so she instructed me to watch carefully for tooth pain, and that I’d know if it was bad because the pain wouldn’t go away like an incidence of cold or sweet sensitivity does.
Question 6: What should I do going forward?
Dr. VanderLaan: His recommendation for me moving forward is to use fluoride on the teeth – he understands that I have concerns about systemic fluoride or ingesting it, so since I’d rather avoid fluoride toothpaste, he would like to see me get braided floss (really thick) and dip it in an over-the-counter fluoride rinse (like ACT or another brand with a bit higher concentration) for a minute or so, then move it/rest it on the affected teeth, after normal flossing and brushing so that the fluoride sits on the teeth for a while.
In next year’s X-rays, if it all looks the same, and then it continues to look the same year after year, I wouldn’t need a filling then. But if the cavity gets too big, I need more than just a filling, so it’s a risk!
“The key is to find the best diet and lifestyle for YOU and then you will be set.” So I just monitor and figure out how I’m doing…
He thinks I need to:
- keep my calorie intake high, especially with breastfeeding – plenty of milk, cheese and butter
- keep my carbs up (safe carbs include white and sweet potatoes, peas, lentils, black beans, nixtamalized organic corn, sourdough white bread, quinoa, amaranth, teff, and soaked buckwheat)
- add bone marrow to my diet
- get at least 1/4 tsp. kelp powder (found on Amazon) daily (capsules at Mountain Rose Herbs)
- turn off wireless at night
- get rid of our Smart Meter
- “Also get enough sleep – your body can’t heal.”
If you’re a visual person, OraWellness has a series of free videos “5 Steps to a Healthy Mouth” that are so good, readers recommended them to ME! Check them out HERE.
The Most Important Lesson
The absolute bottom line of this whole story, if you ask me, is to ask questions at the dentist’s office.
- Ask if you really need it.
- Ask if you can wait.
If you don’t, I say you run a great risk of getting fillings unnecessarily! It seems most dentist’s offices fill any cavity they see, even though it’s pretty clear that a comparison X-ray is the best (only?) way to properly diagnose an active cavity.
My dentist acknowledged that the smaller cavity would likely remineralize – and he ended up being fine with waiting on both of them, but I would have had at least two, if not three fillings back in January had I not asked questions and gone deeper.
Next Steps: What Will I Really Do?
You know I’m all about baby steps and giving grace on the journey, so when I set out on this cavity healing diet, I purposely didn’t do it perfectly.
I didn’t oil pull every single day (ok, that might have been just because I was busy), I did eat white potatoes (starchy) and dried fruit and other fruits, and I even missed brushing my teeth sometimes, especially in the morning on days when I wasn’t leaving the house.
That wasn’t exactly on purpose either – I was trying really hard to brush twice a day.
But overall I figured that if I did 100% of the recommendations 100% perfectly, it might look really unattainable to readers, and we’d never know if there was an easier way than perfection.
The easier way didn’t work.
So now I have a big decision to make.
Keep up the cavity-healing diet completely, continue to include and exclude some but not all of the items on the list, or just go back to eating pretty darn healthy and hope for the best…or maybe take a bath and get more sleep?
So far, since the X-rays, I’ve completely fallen off the wagon on chocolate and oil pulling. I would really like to keep up on my cod liver oil, on consuming high quality and good amounts of dairy, my Vitamin D supplement and the oil pulling.
I’ll consider using a fluoride rinse on the floss, but I haven’t addressed it yet with an actual purchase.
I ran out of liver capsules, and I’m not sure if I’m going to reorder them, use more of what I have in the freezer, or just let that one drop.
I was absolutely terrible at keeping up on the magnesium oil, particularly after one night when I sprayed it on really thoroughly and then could hardly sleep for hours because my skin was burning! In retrospect, I should have just gotten up and washed it off, but I’m sure I had a nursing/sleeping baby next to me, which generally clouds my judgment and keeps me in bed so I don’t wake him.
I could have also used this magnesium oil balm instead that is intended for kids and doesn’t sting at all like regular magnesium oil.
However, I’d like to do more to get magnesium into me, so it’s still a goal.
I was pretty excited to hear that smaller legumes are safer, so the lentils and black beans that are most prolific in our normal diet are definitely back on the table for me. I have kept the grains very low and will probably continue that, and I’ll use white rice instead of brown far more than I used to.
I ate a small bowl of oatmeal the other day and felt like a total renegade.
Sometimes I just want to do the opposite of what I should!
In general, though, I’ll keep the risks of phytic acid at the forefront of my mind and avoid what I can without being legalistic about it.
And the sleep thing.
I’m going to have to work on that one…but not tonight. It’s too late for that!
In the future installments of this series, we’ll look at:
- The cheerleader: You can see my entire interview with the queen of analogies, the dentist who tries to bring every big concept into tangible, easy-to-understand terms for the rest of us, Dr. Judene Benoit. You’re going to love it, and her enthusiasm. Here’s the How to Stop Cavities interview…
- The cynic: We’ll get into my conversation with Ramiel Nagel, who is as passionate about decrying the decline of the dental profession in the last 100 years as he is about dental health. Find out his perspective on whole body health, compassion and encouragement for everyone, and the fact that cavities do not generally need to be drilled and filled, plus more of his advice for me and my sensitive teeth from his new book, Cure Gum Disease. Here’s the interview with Ramiel Nagel
- My panoramic X-rays from a few years ago – was there decay at that time? What should I do about my half-in, half-out wisdom teeth?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission – to pay for regular dental X-rays, I guess! See my full disclosure statement here.