As your dentist in Milwaukie, Dr. Sue Walker, often reminds her patients, what you eat can have a major impact on your oral health. That’s why diets high in sugar lead to increased rates of tooth decay and gum disease. Of course, what we eat has long been a suspect factor in determining humanity’s health throughout the ages.
In the field of anthropology, many researchers believe that as humans transitioned from a culture supported by hunting and gathering into one driven by farming thousands of years ago, they began suffering the effects of gum disease and tooth decay. This has prompted some researchers to suggest that humans would have better oral health if we subsisted solely on a diet of wild foods such as meat and nuts instead of common stables like potatoes, wheat, and corn. However, contrasting this theory today is Tanzania’s Hadza tribe as researchers observe these foragers transition into an agricultural diet.
“The Hadza offer us a window into the past and challenges the prevailing assumption that foragers were healthier before they switched to an agricultural diet based on cereals such as corn and wheat,” states Alyssa Crittenden, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “For example, our results show that a person’s sex and where they live really influences how healthy their teeth are.”
A Difference in Diet Not the Only Factor
For many years, scientists have believed that a change in diet from naturally found foods like meat, nuts, and berries into one based heavily around agriculture brought about a decline in humanity’s oral health. Based on the theory that the increased consumption of carbohydrates and the growth of bacterial colonies in dental plaque gave rise to the increased rates of tooth decay your dentist in Milwaukie and dentists worldwide see today, many researchers considered tooth decay as a man-made disease.
Studying the Hadza tribe, however, has revealed that behavior, residence, and gender greatly impact our oral health more than previously believed. Men, for example, living in the bush of Africa experience tooth decay and other oral issues likely due to the fact they use their teeth as tools to make instruments for hunting. They also smoke more tobacco, which can increase plaque buildup and cause the development of cavities. Conversely, men who live in the village and eat a diet heavy in agricultural foods have significantly better oral health, including healthier gums and teeth.
In comparison, women that live in the bush whose diet consist mainly of foods found in the wild have the best oral health, while women living in the village who eat mainly agricultural foods have the worst teeth. This led researchers to conclude that these patterns show how sex and diet contribute to determining oral health outcomes, something that has frequently been overlooked among populations transitioning from hunting and gathering to farming.
“The presumption we have long held about oral health and the transitioning from a foraging to an agricultural diet are not as clear cut as we once thought,” says Crittenden.
In comparing oral health, researchers also noted factors that contribute to tooth decay in addition to diet and gender, including eating frequency, oral microbiome, bacterial environment, frequency of dental wear, and genetic predisposition. Researchers plan to continue studying the role that each factor may play in oral health as the Hadza continue their transition into farming.
Habits Make for Healthier Teeth
As the Hadza show us, it’s not what we eat as much as how we act that truly determines our oral health. By practicing quality oral hygiene at home – which includes brushing twice a day and flossing daily – and scheduling regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist in Milwaukie, you can successfully prevent the development of tooth decay and gum disease.
When it comes to protecting our long-term health, prevention matters. Don’t neglect your oral health until it’s too late. If you haven’t visited Dr. Walker in a while, schedule your next appointment today!