This health advice, which I’ve heard from my 90-year-old grandmother at least 10 times over my lifetime, will go down as some of the best I’ve ever heard. Yet, despite my being true to my teeth, I’ve faced challenges in oral hygiene in my six-and-a-half years as a raw food enthusiast. I know I’m not alone, having seen several post about their dental health concerns on Facebook and 30BananasADay.com and having spoken to many on this subject over the years.
I’d bet that if you ask most tried-and-true fruit-based raw vegans—those who’ve been on mostly or wholly raw paths for at least two years—what has been their biggest concern, the most common answer you’ll get is oral hygiene. Some have reported that they have wound up with a mouthful of cavities when they visited their dentists after eating mounds of fruit for a sustained period of time. Some have had teeth fall out after years of leading a low-fat raw food diet.
One very well-known low-fat raw fooder even disclosed that he suffered a broken tooth at a special dinner following a speaking engagement. I’ve learned from others that this author water fasts to resolve some dental issues. Water fasting, however, isn’t something most parents and working individuals can do at a moment’s notice.
Some others, meanwhile, have proudly piped up that their dental health has improved while enjoying a fruit-based raw vegan diet.
After struggling with their teeth early into their adoption of this diet, still some others have figured out how to keep their pearly whites in tip-top condition.
And, finally, even others continue to be puzzled about what they might be doing wrong—or not doing that they need to do.
Sink your teeth into the issue of oral hygiene on a raw food diet. Learn from the insight of some of the world’s top raw food enthusiasts. I reached out to 15 raw food fans, and five shared their stories and tips. You’ll see my story first, with the rest of the contributors in alphabetical order. Dr. David Klein came back with a full story, running in a sidebar box. This story wouldn’t be possible without the input of these raw food leaders. Thank you! 🙂
It was in January 2012, a month before I went wholly raw and a year after adopting a mostly raw food diet, that I discovered a groove-like cavity along the gumline of a back bottom molar. I was intent on healing it naturally but clearly wasn’t ready for this challenge. My dentist recommended many months later that I have it filled, advising it’s not wise to wait too long to fix a troubled tooth because the damage can worsen and might make saving the tooth impossible.
Over the years since, I’ve faced continued issues with decay, but this challenge hasn’t been an always-constant matter—rather a semi-constant matter. I must note that I was prone to having dental issues coming into this diet. My sister could get away with not brushing her teeth at night sometimes, but I was the child in the family getting cavities from time to time. During some dental appointments since going raw, I’ve been given a clean bill of health, and during other appointments, I’ve been told I have some pits or even cavities. Overall, my dental health improved once I began using every day two chef’s tablespoons of Daily Green Boost barley grass juice powder. This powder is a welcome addition to my lunch staple, Green ‘n’ Clean Smoothie.
Before I started regularly supplementing with barley grass juice powder, I faced an alarming dental emergency in October 2013 while living briefly in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A portion of one bottom tooth had broken. Thankfully, the excellent dentist I saw was able to save the tooth. I don’t recommend anyone get a root canal—and if you have one or many, look into what having a dead tooth kept in place does for your body, what with infection running rampant.
I’ve also found that using barley grass juice powder as a replacement for a considerable amount of actual tender greens, chiefly lettuces and celery, is a mistake, at least in my experience. Two years ago, while working part time at a raw vegan café, I found it challenging to eat about a pound of romaine lettuce, blended with bananas, along with my standard pound of celery over the course of a double shift. I upped the amount of barley grass juice powder I used and ran into some cavities a few months down the line. Clearly, I didn’t use enough of this powder to compensate for the amount of greens I missed because long-dormant cravings for salty Chipotle fare—this time for salads, which I had eaten only once or twice at this chain, not burritos—came back. What this means is that my sodium consumption was down because my consumption of tender greens was limited.
Before adding barley grass juice powder to my daily menu, I ate an average of 2⅓ pounds of lettuce and celery a day. Since adding two chef’s tablespoons of this supplement, I eat about 2 pounds of these tender greens a day. I consider mineral-rich greens along with a supplement to help compensate for the fact that most of us eat nutritionally subpar foods to be vital. I supplement just about every day with iodine, about four days a week with Vitamins D3, B12 and K2 as well as sparsely supplement with chromium, magnesium and zinc.
I’ve also experienced issues with staining, especially during and after the year I ate about 11 oranges, usually blended with mangos or strawberries or a berry medley, for breakfast just about every day. Dark grapes, especially the divinely flavorful concord grapes, do a number on teeth, too. I’ve learned that some claim the pineapple, oranges, lemons and limes most people buy aren’t truly ripe. Pineapple, for example, doesn’t ripen after it’s picked from trees. I’ve not eaten pineapple in three years and have limited my consumption of oranges. For me, oranges are a fantastic smoothie base and springboard to include berries into my diet, as I tend to buy these frozen unless added to salads. If I scratch oranges altogether, I cut out an affordable source of calories, leaving me with just bananas, grapes and watermelon as staple foods. Dates, with their ultralow protein and fat compositions as well as being devoid of much water, in my opinion, shouldn’t be relied on as a staple food. Mangos, sadly, are inconsistent in taste and ripen poorly, thanks to being dunked in hot water. When your fruit meals run between 1,250 and 1,500 calories, you’re somewhat boxed in by what you can make a meal out of, especially if you want to eat simple recipes or monomeals, which are meals of one kind of food at a time.
Some are affected by staining more than others, and dental hygienists have told me that my teeth are more porous than most people’s. Thankfully, I discovered the wonderful company Uncle Harry’s Natural Products in summer 2015. I’ve found its dental products have helped me manage and even lightly reverse staining, especially Whitening Toothpaste Polish. I’ve experimented with scores of toothpastes and all-natural whitening agents since 2011.
My dental routine has evolved considerably over the years, and these days, I’m armed to the teeth, if you will, when it comes to preparation and execution. An insight I’d like to share with you is to ensure your teeth are truly clean—don’t just go through the motions of dental care and think you’ve done enough. I’d like to thank, in particular, Paul and Yulia Tarbath for their advice to me while I was in Thailand. Their recommendation to floss, use a water irrigator, brush after every meal and use oil-based agents have been blessings, even if I’ve still not completely mastered oral hygiene—or a component connected to dental health such as working less and resting and playing more. I’d also like to thank Don Bennett, who’s provided some outstanding advice as well, especially in regard to dry brushing and using a toothbrush as a tooth tool, both of which I’ve experimented with and continue to do so, and rinsing with clove and iodine solutions. Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Barry Gillespie, creator of Gillespie Approach–Craniosacral Fascial Therapy. A former periodontist, Barry gave me a first-class lesson on best brushing practices as well as a huge box of top-notch toothbrushes and some dental floss. “You’re going to need your teeth,” this mentor told me.
So true. 🙂
Because I researched how I would need to live to be as healthy as I could be when making improvements to my diet and lifestyle practices, I didn’t have any dental issues even though I have “weak dental genetics” (non-bulletproof teeth). Making sure not to eat unripe citrus fruit is key, as is making sure to get enough of all the nutrients we need for healthy teeth and strong bones … don’t assume that the fruit and greens you eat will provide “enough of all,” because, for most people, they won’t; treat diet and nutrition as two distinct areas of study, and learn about nutrition as a researcher and not as a student. Also, rinsing your mouth with water after eating dried fruit and “acidic” fruit, and not brushing immediately after eating citrus fruit, are good tips.
I have counseled many people over the last 15 years, and a percentage of them had developed dental issues after “going raw,” and there are hard science reasons for this (it’s not the diet’s fault). My recommendations that people found to be helpful in resolving dental issues like demineralized teeth were: add a nutritional adjunct to the diet (Daily Green Boost is the best, in my opinion), and add more than a normal daily amount for a few months. Have your vitamin D level tested, and if low, and if you cannot get meaningful amounts of sunshine where you live, do not take a vitamin D supplement (yes, you heard me correctly); instead get a phototherapy device that mimics the sun’s rays (sunshine makes more than just D in your skin). This device is costly, but not nearly as costly as a diagnosis of something serious. The ShowerFloss device is excellent for water-flossing, and using a properly designed soft toothbrush as a tooth tool (not a brushing action) both with nothing on it (dry brushing), and with a healthy toothpaste is very helpful. And for those with weak dental genetics, rinsing your mouth with diluted clove oil just before going to sleep is a must.
I’m currently using Uncle Harry’s Whitening Toothpaste Polish after I dry-brush my teeth. The highly recommended ShowerFloss is at ShowerFloss.com. Read my dental blog, which has toothbrush recommendations and info on that clove oil mouthrinse.
Don Bennett is a 40-year vegan, 25-year all-raw foodist who takes a truly real-world approach to health, and has applied his outside-the-box way of thinking to the best diet to also make it the healthiest diet so you can thrive and have optimal future health.
I had problems with my teeth from a young age, and, in my 20s, I had about 14 amalgam fillings in my mouth. When I started on a raw food and fruit diet, some things got worse. I was losing tooth enamel on my front teeth and getting more holes in other teeth. Luckily, I learned about the causes of deterioration and could stop this damage when there was still time to save my teeth.
Yes, our jaws became smaller, but we retained the same number of teeth. That’s why it is very important to use interdental toothbrushes.The worse thing for the front teeth is to eat something acidic and also firm like apples or brushing teeth directly after eating acidic fruits.
I brush my teeth once a day after my last meal of the day. I use an ultrasoft Curaprox toothbrush, floss picks, toothpicks and interdental toothbrushes to clean my teeth. I rinse my mouth after each meal. I eat only high-water fruits and limit my consumption of apples, pineapples or kiwis. Every day, I eat about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of nonsweet fruits and greens.
Growing up, I couldn’t care less about my teeth. Honestly, I was proud that I went months without brushing at all. It was normal for me to need two cleanings and have five-plus cavities during my dental visits. That was when I was forced to go.
When I first went raw 13 years ago, I brought this same mentality to my oral hygiene. About one to two years in, I started to brush more consistently and occasionally floss. About six years in, I had gone 10 years between dental visits and was as surprised as they were when they said I needed only half a regular cleaning and had only a few cavities, which I had fixed without using numbing agents, between my teeth from a lack of flossing. Since then, I have become more conscious of my oral hygiene routine, with only a few breaks in regularity. On some occasions that my routine slipped, I found that I developed slightly recessed gums adjacent to two bottom teeth. I also found that they would correct themselves when I got back to regular brushing. After nine years on a raw diet, I got all my amalgam fillings removed and have vastly upgraded my oral hygiene routine, which has helped whiten and improve my dental health overall. During my last visit to my dentist, I had two potential cavities between my back teeth and have chosen to see if I can take care of them on my own.
My favourite oral hygiene tool is the WaterPik. I use it at least once per day and sometimes two times. These days, I brush one to three times a day using a Radius toothbrush and then follow it up with my WaterPik and sometimes flossing. I floss more often between meals or when I am on the go, as it’s a quick way to get rid of debris between my teeth. My toothbrush and WaterPik are my mainstay oral hygiene tools at home. I love the soft wide-bristled brush on the Radius because I cover more tooth area per brush stroke, reaching teeth and gums, and simply feel these toothbrushes clean better. A bonus is that they last a long time and the bristles never flatten out. I strongly prefer Eco-DenT tooth powder over all other forms of toothpaste and powder. I have tried well more than a dozen well-promoted healthy toothpastes and powders and find Eco-DenT to surpass them all. I often mix oral hygiene with yoga and do tree pose or other balancing poses while brushing. I find this helps me focus and brush for a longer period of time. If I eat strong acid foods such as lemons, limes or pineapple, I either eat some greens afterward or swish my mouth out with water and wait at least half an hour before brushing.
The main reasons I feel people starting on a raw diet may have troubles—I say “may,” as I do not find this to be overly common—that are more common than for the average person are:
1. Lack of a solid oral hygiene routine, with not enough time taken or methods of care used as well as using abrasive powders and overbrushing.
2. Eating too much underripe fruit, nuts or dried fruit, with No. 1 a consideration
3. Not eating enough greens or digesting their greens well enough in order to get the mineral density they require.
I find No. 3 to be one of the biggest reasons due to the fact that, in the beginning of a raw lifestyle, most people have a hard time consuming enough greens for maintenance, not considering the even greater amount of alkalinity required for the intensive detoxification that occurs in the first few months and years. It is my belief that in the first few months and years of a raw food diet, more alkaline minerals are needed to buffer the acidity being released and processed from the past lifestyle than in the “maintenance” stage. At this time, if our needs are not being met, our bones and teeth suffer. Couple this with the fact that people who come into the lifestyle often have poor digestion.
It takes time, knowledge and patience to build up the hydrocloric acid needed to digest and absorb even the volume of greens (1 to 2 pounds a day) often recommended in the maintenance stage of a raw food diet. Because of these factors, I often recommend people slowly increase the amount of whole greens they eat in the form of green smoothies, soups, stews, salads, juices and even green powders such as barley grass juice powder to increase the over all alkalinity of their lifestyle. Getting enough minerals, especially considering produce quality and detoxification, in my humble opinion, is central in tooth health and overall health.
When I first began living a raw food lifestyle, I researched and read many conflicting views about how to care for your teeth properly while eating large amounts of fruit sugar and nuts. Prior to this time, I had a perfect dental record. For the previous 18 years, I cared for my teeth diligently and never experienced pain, sensitivity or a cavity, so I assumed my dental health would stay largely the same regardless of my lifestyle. I was wrong. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake that many people make when they begin eating raw: to take advice from others who are not dental professionals. I assumed that raw food enthusiasts and leaders in the movement knew all there was to know about dental health combined with a raw food diet, but I’ve come to realize that they were likely experimenting just as I have done over the years.
What I’ve learned over the past seven years of eating raw foods is that it is not worth it to experiment when it comes to your dental health. For example, I decided to quit using toothpaste and brushed my teeth with only water for two years. During this time, my teeth appeared to be fine, and I didn’t actually see the damage done until years later. Now I’m faced with many cavities and dental decay that could have been easily prevented had I stuck with a proper dental hygiene routine. Even though I truly thought I was doing the best for my dental health when I decided to stop using toothpaste, it’s a choice that I very much regret.
Nowadays, I stick with the same dental routine that I used prior to eating raw foods, namely using fluoridated toothpaste with mainstream toothbrushes and also fluoridated mouthwash. Although I understand that these products are in no way natural, I’ve come to terms with the fact that the more natural toothpastes and mouthwashes simply don’t keep my teeth clean enough. Now that I’ve returned to a more mainstream approach, my dental health has plateaued without my experiencing any new cavities or sensitivity.