Beyond the drill – Reversing tooth decay

 

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An Australian study reveals the unthinkable: tooth decay is reversible. Celeste McGovern investigates how to reverse cavities and avoid a drill-and-fill solution.

In a little known study in the 1920s, researchers at the Department of Pediatrics and Dentistry at the State University of Iowa treating children for diabetes discovered something untoward. Twenty-eight of the children, who’d had a number of dental cavities, saw their extensive active tooth decay come to a halt after they were put on a diabetic diet and treated with insulin. Low in sugar, the diet also included two pints of milk each day, cream, butter, eggs, cod liver oil, vegetables and fruit.

Intrigued by these findings, the same researchers tried the diet on children in the hospital’s orthopaedic ward. The group were fed the same low-sugar, high-dairy plus cod liver oil diabetic diet, but not insulin. Again, all of their dental caries were halted, as evidenced by the “stony hardness” of the dentine (‘dentin’ in the US) compared with its initially decaying state. The researchers noted “no advance in the destructive process”.

Next, the researchers instructed the mothers of a group of preschool children with cavities to make sure the children got a teaspoon of cod liver oil, a quart of whole milk, an ounce of butter, a glass of orange or tomato juice and two or more servings of vegetables and fruit every day. Otherwise, they could eat whatever they wanted.Some children ate sweets, some were on high-carbohydrate diets and some on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets. In some cases, they didn’t even use a toothbrush. Yet all of the children’s tooth decay arrested within 10 weeks.2

This study and the idea behind it—that dental cavities can be reversed—has been largely forgotten by the dental profession, whose approach to dental decay is to brandish a drill. In the UK, dentists drill and fit about 12 million metal amalgam fillings each year, to say nothing of the white fillings offered to small children and those willing to pay extra to avoid mercury. According to a British Dental Health Foundation survey, dental decay is the most common disease of UK children. More than four-fifths of the entire UK population has at least one filling; the average adult has seven.

But recently, the possibility of reversing tooth decay was resurrected after a team of Australian dental researchers published the results of their explosive seven-year study and follow-up: up to half of all tooth decay was reversible with the appropriate care, they concluded…

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