Diet that will Help Prevent Tooth Decay

Every time I visit the dentist I seem to have a new cavity, so I was thrilled to find some advice about how to eat in ways that will prevent tooth decay in a hundred-year-old magazine. Here are some excerpts:

Diet in the Prevention of Dental Decay

Is there any mother who would not, if she could ensure a strong beautiful set of teeth for each of her boys and girls? Alfred Owre, dean of the dental department of the University of Minnesota feels strongly about the possibility of keeping teeth in a perfectly sound and healthy condition throughout life. He emphasizes the necessity of using hard foods, especially during the period when the bones of the jaws are developing in order to bring into full pay the organs of mastication, and he also emphasizes the necessity of eating plenty of coarse, fibrous food to keep the teeth well polished and to wear down irregularities of their surfaces.

Professor Henry Pierce Pickerill, director of the dental department of the University of Otago, and one of the foremost English authorities on the subject, agrees with Dr. Owre, on the points mentioned, but he emphasizes also the importance of keeping the mouth clean of sticky, sweet, acid-forming debris of food by selecting a preponderance of foods which are anti-acid, and eating at the end of meals such fibrous foods as celery, raw carrots, or apples. He calls attention to the scouring effect which these foods exert under the two-hundred-pound pressure of the normal bite, and their tendency to increase the quantity and quality of the flow of cleansing saliva.

It is only the residue of sweet and starch foods that is dangerous, particles of meat and other tissue-forming foods are not being fermentable or acid-forming. Our first safeguard then, lies in keeping the mouth as free as possible from sweet or starch particles of food. The second safeguard, and one which has been almost entirely neglected hitherto, lies in promoting, by a correct choice and sequence of food at meal time, a strong flow of highly alkaline saliva to neutralize the acid as it forms.

But it is long before a child begins to take solid food that the task of providing a strong set of teeth must be begun. Dr. J. I. Durand has proved that breast-fed babies stand the best chance of developing strong and beautiful teeth later in life. Babies fed on properly modified cow’s milk stand the next best chance. And babies fed on sweetened condensed milk are under the severest handicap. Moreover, Dr. Durance recommends the early addition of meat, fruits, and vegetables with their mineral constituents to the child’s diet. Orange-juice, he declares, may be given in small quantities any time after the first month, and vegetables, fruits, and meats, also in small amounts as early as the sixth or seventh month.

Then, too in babyhood the infant’s jaw is developing and it is very important that the child should be given an opportunity to exercise the muscles of mastication through chewing on tough crusts, tough strips of meat, bones, and other hard and tough articles. Otherwise the jaw does not develop properly and provide sufficient room for the teeth. When a jaw is too small the teeth are inclined to be crowded and irregular. This affects not only the child’s good looks, but it makes it easier for pieces of food to lodge between the teeth.

Good Housekeeping (January, 1918)

19 thoughts on “Diet that will Help Prevent Tooth Decay

  1. Some of this advice still stands true today. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that! How cool.

    If you’re open to future blogging suggestions, do you think you’ll ever write a post on dental care a hundred years ago? I’ve read all of your posts on this blog, and I think I remember your grandmother talking about a toothache and having a few cavities filled over the years she kept her diary.

    It would be interesting to read more about what dental care was like and who could afford it back then if you’ve researched those topics.

    1. I’ll have to see what I can find about dental care a hundred-yeas ago. Your comment brought back warm memories of the diary years, and I ended up rereading the entries about my grandmother’s toothache.

      Tuesday, April 11, 1911: I am plagued with an attack of toothache, which seems to have no let up . . .

      Saturday, April 15, 1911: . . . . Still have a toothache.

      Tuesday, April 18, 1911: , , , Toothache still continues.

      Saturday, May 6, 1911: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. I wanted to get my teeth filled but as the dentist was absent I was forced to wait until another day. While there we went into the theatre on Broadway.

      Saturday, May 13, 1911: I went to Milton this afternoon to get my teeth filled, but it happened to be a wild goose chase, for he wasn’t there. I walked around town until I was tired, then went into Bijou Dream. I’m so very tired now. Oh, dear.

      Thursday, July 6, 1911: Went to Milton this morning. Got that bothersome tooth that ached in the spring filled and several other ones. Went to the extravaganza of buying a five dollar ring today. I am busted now.

      Whew, what a long process. Grandma was in pain for almost 3 months before she got her cavities filled! It’s hard to image someone having this much difficulty getting a tooth filled today. I suppose that back in the days before people had telephones that it was difficult to schedule appointments, and patients just had to hope that the dentist would be in.

    1. Thanks for finding the information about Professor Pickerill. All the things that he did to move denistry forward are impressive. Until I read your comment, I hadn’t realized that the University of Otago was in New Zealand. (I’d incorrectly thought that it was in England.) Now that I know that the University is in the country of a regular reader like you, makes me even more glad that I did this post.

  2. I have a re-newed appreciation for celery. Might need to eat more of it. At the end of the meal, of course! Dessert celery, as it were. πŸ˜„

    1. I often have an apple with lunch, and it’s always the last thing that I eat – so I’m feeling good about at least one meal. As to breakfast and dinner – well, that may be another story.

  3. An interesting take on 100-year-old holistic Western dentistry! Add to it the 3000-year-old Ayurvedic practice of “coconut oil pulling” which is swishing your mouth (and spitting out) with coconut pill to detox and kill bacteria. That’s what I do every morning πŸ™‚ I also enjoy apples as a substitute brushing. I guess celery could be the flossing πŸ™‚

      1. At least you have an excuse for the typo – I often make typos for no apparent reason. I learn so much from readers like you. I wasn’t familiar with coconut oil pulling until I read your comment – and then googled it. It’s intriguing how different cultures and time periods find totally different approaches to addressing various issues.

  4. How interesting – but so true. Sadly, it’s the kinds of foods and drinks we eat and drink today that cause our teeth to rot. Celery for brushing is a good backup option if you’ve misplaced or forgotten your toothbrush!

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