Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma, I want to clean my teeth with only natural, organic products. How did "cavemen" and past civilisations keep their teeth clean without chemicals like Fluoride etc? Thank you Dainis, Mayfield NSW
Fluoride would have most certainly been part of some cavemen's oral hygiene routine, they just wouldn't have known it. Fluoride is naturally occurring in many water supplies throughout the world. It is the naturally high level of fluoride in Colorado, USA, that first led to the discovery of the protective effect fluoride has on teeth. The town of Colorado Springs had a significantly lower rate of tooth decay than other areas, which was found to be thanks to fluoride in their water supply. So, one way to look at it is that fluoride is part of our natural protection against tooth decay that has been provided for us by the Earth.
If you want to truly care for your teeth like our distant ancestors, the first thing you need to do is look at your diet. For tooth decay to occur there must be plaque present, as well as fermentable carbohydrate, (sugar), for the plaque bacteria to turn into acid. Way back when, our ancestors had an extremely different diet. The only sugar they would have encountered would have been in fruit, and it may not have been readily available for daily consumption. In addition to the large difference in the amount of sugar eaten, modern man eats very soft food. We refine and cook most of our food which results in our teeth not having to work very hard. Ancient humans would have eaten a lot more raw, hard food, which would help to physically clean plaque and debris from their teeth. With our life expectancy increasing even year, our teeth also have to last much longer than they would have in caveman days.
When it comes to cleaning tools, many different things have been used throughout the ages, before toothbrushes came along.Chewing sticks, feathers, twigs, bones, and porcupine quills have been used to remove plaque and food from teeth. Just like your toothbrush and floss, though, it matters more what you do with the tool than what the actual tool is.
There are "natural" toothpastes on the market, which contain active ingredients such as tea-tree oil, silica, xylitol, eucalyptus, aloe vera, peppermint oil, cloves, sea salt, and baking soda. Some also contain fluoride, artificial colours, and sodium lauryl sulphate. Be careful not to be sucked into the marketing hype of the words "organic" and "natural", and instead look at the ingredients for yourself. Often these toothpastes are significantly more expensive than your standard fluoride one, for not much benefit. I would advise you also take care in your toothpaste selection, as some of the natural ones contain ingredients which make them very abrasive. This is great for getting your teeth clean, but used every day will damage your enamel and wear it away. It's a bit like using cut and polish on your car's paintwork. Great now and then, but every day will leave you with a naked car! This goes for home-made toothpaste based on salt or baking soda as well.
I wish you all the best on your natural tooth-care quest. Remember that it's important to see your dentist regularly, especially when making a change to your oral hygiene routine. Your dentist will be able to let you know if your home care is doing the trick, or give you tips on any small changes you might need to make to keep your teeth strong and healthy.