A faulty diet and nutritional derangements after birth easily results in faulty tooth structure, both in the temporary and permanent teeth. The prenatal months and the pre-school years are, indeed, as they have been aptly termed, the golden age for the prevention of tooth decay. If no thought is ever given to the requirements of children's teeth until after they erupt, the chances are that, on our modern diet, the child's teeth will be defective and short lived.
Upon the mother falls the duty of feeding the teeth during the prenatal months and during the nursing months after birth. The duty and the responsibility are hers. Her duty is not merely to her child but to herself, as well. For, if she does not supply the embryo and perhaps even the suckling, with the necessary elements in her food, nature will manage to take some of these out of her own tissues. Her own teeth will suffer, and perhaps, also her blood and other tissues, due to nature's habit of safeguarding the child at the mother's expense.
Dr. Howe says that: "The deficiencies which manifest themselves in the dental apparatus of the child are generally, in part at least, results of deficiencies in the diet of the mother before the child is born and wrong feeding of the infant. It is more and more the duty of our profession to take care of the dental condition of the expectant mother. The diet which will protect the teeth against the heavy demands of this period is the very diet to supply materials for the bones and teeth of the foetus."
Mothers tend to lose their teeth during pregnancy and lactation. This is not true of animals and savages and is so in civilized mothers because their diet does not meet the demand for extra calcium during this period.
It is an old proverb among mothers, "with every child a tooth." To this may be added, "for every child several cavities." A British investigator, Dr. Ballantyne, in the study of a hundred cases in the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Clinic, found that ninety-eight per cent of the pregnant women suffered with "dental caries or infection." Ninety-three per cent of this number had had one or more extractions. More than half (53%) of these patients were under twenty-five years of age. Almost as high percentages of carious teeth have been noted in pregnant women in some of our American clinics.
On a deficient diet (experimental), growing animals show such effects as the following--dental caries, cranial caries, mandible caries, caries of other bones, distortion and malnutrition of bones--such as shortened and small ribs, smallness and deformity of the cranium, chest, pelvis, etc.--rickets, distorted and malposed teeth, crooked nose, etc. Caries is the term for decay or ulcerous inflammation of bone.
Dr. Howe placed animals on a scurvy producing diet and produced "retarded growth, warping of the body structure, lowered vitality, susceptibility to colds and more serious forms of illness." If the diet is bad enough the animals die in four weeks. If not greatly deficient "death does not come immediately or completely, as with entire deprivation (of vitamin C), but comes creeping on slowly, insiduously and progressively, until it involves all the bony tissues, including the teeth. Even the enamel, which is the hardest and perhaps the most resistant tissue in the body, is affected."
"The particular form of starvation which is scurvy dissolves the soft or organic parts of the bones and teeth. In bones there is an organic matrix or frame-work, and the mineral salts, which give stiffness and hardness, are held in this organic material. Even the enamel has such a framework, and evidence which lies before me as I write indicates that there is more circulation in the enamel than we have supposed. When the body is deprived of enough vitamin C for a long time something happens to the matrix, perhaps in tiny spots here and there through the body, and if the deprivation is sufficient, the matrix will break down."--(Howe)
Howe further says: "We have seen that, under the influence of a vitamin C deficiency which has not been sufficiently prolonged to cause recognizable signs of scurvy, the pulp of the tooth in a guinea-pig will undergo changes that are destructive for it and for the dentin. It will shrink forcibly enough to tear the odontoblastic processes out of the dental tubuli and, in the section (a picture of a set of teeth is here shown), something appearing like broken processes may be seen on the outer margin of the pulp. This tearing out of the processes probably renders it impossible for the odontoblasts to continue the functions which may be essential to the metabolism of the dentin, and soon thereafter the dentin begins to liquefy and may be extensively or completely destroyed. If similar changes occur in human teeth, is it not probable that dentin in which the functions of the odontoblasts have not been torn away, would offer less resistance to the agents of decay than the same dentin would when in good health? Our experiments show that a complete vitamin C deficiency will visibly affect the odontoblasts in about five to seven days.
"We have seen that very soon after the feeding of orange juice is begun, the pulp, though incapable of returning to its former size or form, resumes some of its functions and initiates the development of secondary dentin, which might be called dental scar tissue."
Animals fed on a deficient diet until they are ready to die, and have sustained great injury to their teeth, improve upon being given orange juice. Dr. Howe says that within twenty-four hours after the first feeding of orange juice, the pulp of the teeth begins to resume its dentin-building function. I have seen great improvement in the condition of the teeth of adults follow improved diet. Howe tells us that "when the nutritional balance is restored, the destructive process from within can be stopped and, if it has not gone too far, may be repaired. It is quite possible that you may do that with these other teeth if you will prescribe liberal quantities of fresh whole milk, unpasteurized, orange juice and green vegetables. Keep the protein in the diet low. Excess protein in the diet of experimental animals is always a disturbing factor."
Howe and others have shown that animals fed on the conventional American diet of refined cereals, pasteurized milk or cream, white sugar, meat and eggs, bread, coffee and sweets, with a deficiency of minerals and vitamins, develop rickets, scurvy, etc., and decay of the teeth. If the diet is very bad, the animals develop not only dental caries, but caries of the cranium, ribs, spine, and of the bones of the limbs.
Dr. E. A. Crostic, New York City, observes: "No one in New York City is eating the proper food these days. Foreigners who come here with a history of natural foods, behind them possess solid tissues.
"Thirty years ago when the occasion arose people could sit in a dentist's chair and have several teeth extracted without wincing. Today, so lacking in nerves, energy and vitality are our women, that almost any of them after the ordeal of one or two extractions is on the verge of collapse."