I’ve seen a lot of posts and articles recently about whether or not dental cavities can be “cured,” with various holistic dentistry advocates pushing alleged cures such as colloidal silver, coconut oil, and some other stuff. We don’t see many people in our practice with these questions, but since it’s out there, I think it wise to address the issue head-on. Bear in mind – this article will pull no punches and might seem a bit offensive. My apologies in advance, but I am definitely getting on my soapbox here. 🙂
Update: I’ve written a new article that discusses the research that is asked about in the comments. There are ongoing studies into how to stimulate tooth growth with lasers, create gels of minerals and enzymes that could build new enamel, and more. As of 2016, however, any such research is at least a decade away from being available. You can read more here: Why Dentists Can’t Cure Cavities or Regrow Enamel.
Holistic Dentistry Is a Scam and Hoax
No sense in beating around the bush, eh? I’ll just get straight to the point and give you what I honestly believe, and tell you that there is virtually nothing espoused by “holistic” dentists that has ever been proven to be worth more than the paper it was printed on or the Internet space it took up. This holds true for the idea of “curing tooth decay,” too, as espoused on such junk “science” sites as NaturalNews.com or WellnessMama.com. Plain and simple, it’s true that Holistic, Alternative Medicine is Usually Wrong.
But getting specifically to the question about “curing” dental cavities, this post was largely inspired by this wonderfully thorough article that debunks the idea of healing cavities (particularly since the writer is not in the dental field, but did all the research on her own) on the FB Page I F********g Hate PseudoScience, which used to be one of my favorites – unfortunately, now it’s mostly clickbait, so this is one of the few good resources on it.
Why Most Dental Cavities Can Not Be Cured
Let’s look at tooth structure for the answer, because it’s quite simple: both dentin and enamel are “dead” tissues. So what does that mean, exactly?
- Dentin (the layer under the enamel) is 70% minerals (hydroxyapatite), 20% organic materials (mostly collagen) and 10% water. You’ll notice that there are NO CELLS in dentin.
- Enamel is 96% minerals (hydroxyapatite) and 4% water. Again – NO CELLS.
- Basic human biology requires that there be cells that can reproduce, in order for any tissue to regrow or repair itself. No cells = no ability to regrow. Got it?
So by basic human biology, we know that teeth can not “regrow” in any way, because there are no “enamel cells” or “dentin cells” that can regenerate, which means they can’t heal themselves. So, we have that one out of the way, but now let’s deal with the other things these quacks claim can be done.
*** BTW – one really important point to consider when looking at most (not all, but most) of the “cures” promoted by holistics: for some strange reason, most of this “amazing research” that has been allegedly suppressed by mainstream science and dentistry comes from the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s, up until the 1950’s. Why is that, exactly? Personally, I have NO desire to have ANY of my doctors use medical research from 30-, 50-, 80-, or more than 100 years ago. I like my doctors using the most current and rigorous research, with the best equipment, scientific analysis, statistical analysis, etc. If any doctor told me that they were going to use a 100-year-old remedy on me for much of anything, I’d run screaming in fear. No thanks! ***
How Do Teeth Form?
For anyone interested in a highly technical description of how teeth develop from the beginning, Wikipedia does actually have a very good description here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_tooth_development. Please be aware that you will need a fairly strong background in biology to understand the material.
Dentin is formed by odontoblasts in a process called dentinogenesis. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/dentinogenesis
Enamel is formed by ameloblasts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelogenesis.
Home Remedies/Quack Dental Cures
So what are the other alleged methods for “curing” tooth decay? Here we go:
- Oil-pulling: this is allegedly an ancient Indian remedy for reducing the number of bad bacteria in your mouth. Supposedly, rinsing with oils gets bacteria “stuck” in the oil and helps remove it. Quite frankly, there is no good science to support this. There have been some studies that showed a reduction in bacteria in people who rinsed with coconut or sesame oil; however, the same reduction was achieved faster with a simple chlorhexidine rinse. Heck – you can get that same reduction by swishing with Listerine, Crest, Colgate, or other mouthrinses. But is oil-pulling some magic remedy that will cure your cavities? Ummmmmmm………NO.
- Diet: Some people have claimed that a diet high in Vitamin D can “cure” tooth decay. Hmmmmm, again, let’s look at biology.
- Allegedly, eating a diet high in Vitamin D gives your teeth the ability to create new dentin inside the pulp, which is somehow the tooth “healing” itself. Of course, if the cavity is coming from the outside, i.e. the enamel, I’m not quite sure how extra dentin on the inside qualifies as “healing,” but that leap of logic doesn’t seem to faze the believers. If the cavity is coming from the enamel, how is more dentin on the side “healing?” OK, it does provide some extra barrier, but there’s another problem with the idea…..what happens when the pulp runs out of space to put down new dentin? ’cause, you know, the pulp is pretty small to start, and if it’s getting smaller with more dentin, eventually it runs out of space, and once the pulp has squeezed itself out of existence, then what? Hmmmmmmm????? Dang, it’s stinks when logic interferes with quackery, doesn’t it?
- Secondly, how exactly does Vitamin D. really get inside the tooth? Through the bloodstream, of course – it certainly can’t soak in from the outside, because it doesn’t stay there long enough. Ok, but how much Vitamin D. can you get into a tooth? Do you have any idea how small the opening at the tip of the root is? Trust me – it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY SMALL! Trying to get ANYTHING inside a tooth in a high enough concentration to do any good is almost impossible. And unless you can somehow force a VERY high concentration of Vitamin D. into the tooth, there’s no way it will do a dang bit of good. Again…….it sounds nice, but it simply doesn’t work. Somehow, though, the supporters of these methods conveniently ignore these basic facts.
- Oh, and one other “minor” detail: Vitamin D isn’t part of either enamel or dentin, so even if it gets into the tooth, it doesn’t do squat.
- I often see statements that an “organic” diet will cure cavities. Ummmm, HOW? Organic simply describes a set of agricultural methods and rules, it doesn’t actually change the content of the food, and “organic” doesn’t magically make the food have anything in it that repairs cavities.
- Same thing with “organic, free-roaming, grass-fed beef.” Again…..HOW? What ingredients are present in beef (of ANY kind) that magically repair a crystalline mineral matrix of calcium, phosphate, and fluoride? NONE. This is NONSENSE.
Don’t Want Cavities? PREVENTION
Interestingly, if you really get into reading some of the junk that’s out there, they also talk about using the same preventive techniques that dentists recommend, such as:
- Avoiding foods high in sugars
- Avoiding all highly-processed foods, especially carbohydrates
- Brushing your teeth twice a day
- Flossing regularly
You’d be hard-pressed to find a dentist who would disagree with any of these ideas, because they are all good ones. But none of the “studies” that are so often cited by the quacks seem to separate out any of them, so there’s no way to know if it was actually the brushing and flossing that was doing the trick, or the other stuff? Odd, isn’t it? Again, it’s that pesky logic that gets in the way, but logic seems to be in short supply among people who believe cavities can be “cured.”
Some Cavities Can Be Reversed
Look, there ARE some circumstances under which tooth decay can be reversed, and I wrote a pretty in-depth description of it here. When cavities are entirely within enamel, if a big enough change in the oral environment is made (eliminate excess sugars, acidic foods and drinks, etc) and a strong enough concentration of the right minerals (calcium, phosphates, and fluoride) can be applied and absorbed, those early-stage cavities can be remineralized, or re-hardened.
However, cavities found in the deep grooves of teeth are rarely reversible this way, because there is usually too much crud embedded in those grooves from your food, so it’s impossible to get the minerals in there. Cavities found between the teeth can be reversed, but it takes even more effort than small cavities found on the front or back of the teeth.
But once a cavity has penetrated through the enamel, it becomes impossible to reverse with current technology and techniques. It’s simply not possible to force a medication, or paste, or liquid of any kind that deep into the tooth to not only kill the bacteria, but to rebuild the mineral matrix.
There Are No Short Cuts
Look, ask any dentist, and s/he will tell you how wonderful it would be to find an easier way to fix cavities. With the methods we have to use today, patients really don’t like us, and do you really think we wouldn’t like some way to not have people tell us every day, “No offense doc, but I hate the dentist!” Sadly, there are no short-cuts, no easy fixes, no magical cures. We don’t like giving people shots, we don’t like the sound of the drill any more than you do, and we don’t like hearing people complain about us every day, when we’re just trying to help people get better.
But “holistic” dentistry? Just say no to junk science and quackery, PLEASE.
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