Whether for bucked teeth, over bites, under-bites, or just a bunch of crooked teeth, most adults I know have had braces at some point of their lives. Teeth come in a bit wonky, and parents shell out the thousands to straighten them. Besides the cost and a few years of teenage embarrassment, no biggie, right? While we may take “crooked teeth” for granted, it’s worth considering why they got that way in the first place. Are we really designed to have mouths that don’t fit our teeth?
One man, Weston A. Price, a dentist from Cleveland who practiced in the 1930’s had a hypothesis. Crooked teeth, he theorized, were actually a skeletal deformity resulting from poor diet. The more generations exposed to a poor diet, the more dental, skeletal, and overall health problems an individual would have including a decrease in the ability to conceive future generations.
Dr. Price traveled to remote areas of the globe and found various groups of people with wide dental arches, uncrowded straight teeth, and minimal tooth decay. These people, whether in the Swiss alps or the Aboriginal outback, all had two main things in common beyond their good health:
- They were not exposed to modern foods which at the time included sugar, white flour, vegetable oils, and canned goods.
- They consumed a diet rich in traditionally prepared foods which included animal fats. (This was true even of the healthy vegetarian peoples).
In his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price documented his research and provides copious photographs of these healthy, traditional people versus their relatives and countrymen who have been exposed to modern diets and thereby displaced from traditional foods. The imagery is striking, and clearly shows a decline in vitality as the diet becomes modernized.
For myself, when I learned about the importance of traditional foods and the plague of modern diets, food and nourishment took on a whole new meaning in my life, our household, and my practice. My family’s diet is certainly not perfect, but we aim to include nutrient dense foods as much as possible and really limit the junk. Nutrition has become a vital part of my approach with my patients as well.
I see teeth everywhere now. Every once in awhile, I meet someone with a gorgeous wide smile and perfectly straight teeth who has not had orthodontia. (Yes, I ask!) In most of these cases, the individual was raised in a different country on traditional foods.
Price’s old photos are certainly eye-opening, but looking at modern mouths is even more fascinating to me. Let’s check out some people a bit closer to our year and zip codes. We’ll observe at their facial structure, the health of their teeth, and their dietary history and see what we find! First up…
Meet Luki – 28 years old, born and raised in Cameroon until the age of 16 when his family moved to San Jose, CA. Notice Luki’s gorgeous, wide smile and perfectly spaced white teeth. Luki has never had braces or other orthodontia, and never saw a dentist until he moved to the US (his dentist was shocked by Luki’s perfect teeth). Luki developed his first cavities (four of them) at that age of 25 – nine years after leaving Cameroon and adopting an American diet.
What was your diet like in Cameroon?
Diverse type of traditional Cameroonian and European foods. Everything was organic, natural and fresh, of course. The diet was about 60% fresh seafood. We never had processed food, didn’t even know what that meant until I moved to the States. I’d say the most processed food I had was yogurt, which I had no problem consuming. But I developed an intolerance for lactose when I moved here. Our fast food was street food which was pretty much the same that we ate at home but someone else was doing the cooking.
Did you eat “modernized” foods growing up: sugar, white flour, vegetable oils, canned foods? Starting at what age?
If that’s what you call modernized food. Lol. Yeah, I ate all of that. Although the only canned foods we ate were tomatoes. I’d say from as far as I can remember – 1 year old if not younger. I think we mostly cooked with peanut or palm oil. We never cooked with animal fats or coconut oil, however we ate a lot of coconut and avocado. We didn’t drink much milk, but when we did it was either powder or condensed, not fresh.
Did you eat meat? If so, what kind? How was it prepared? Was the meat lean or fatty?
Yes, I ate meat. But in much smaller quantities than I do here. Ate all kind of meat, mostly beef. Occasionally exotic meats like rabbit, crocodile, etc but that was rare. Our meat was all grass fed. The way it worked in Cameroon, cow herding was done mostly by the northerners, and they would herd their cows cross country to different cities. I grew up in the South West of Cameroon where the forest meets the ocean quite literally, so it was a top destination for them. These were the leanest cows I have ever seen!
Did you eat much grains? If so, do you know if they were soaked, soured, or sprouted before consumption?
Not too many grains – mostly rice, maize. I am sure we ate others but can’t really think of any. I’d say soaked, soured rarely sprouted.
To your knowledge, has your dietary shift since leaving Cameroon affected your health?
I know my health has been really affected. I have developed a lot of skin issues, I am constantly tired as if I don’t get enough energy from my foods, I have frequent loss of appetite so I eat irregularly, and I developed cavities of course.
I am more than convinced that traditional food provide the best nutrition for your health. I am speaking from first hand experience. I also find it particularly sad that organically grown food which in most cultures is “the” standard, here it is for the privileged few. Consequently, we are seeing an increasing number of people with health problems.
Based on Weston Price’s theories, it’s safe to say that Luki’s health benefited from a fairly traditional diet rich in seafood before moving to the U.S., though modernized foods were certainly present (dried and canned milk, peanut oil, and sweets). Grains were eaten in moderation and traditionally prepared, and meats were always grass fed, pasture-raised.
Next, meet Heidy. She is 33 years old and from El Salvador. She has lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, and despite her perfect, broad smile, she’s never had braces.
Back in her homeland, Heidy lived with her family in a small village where chickens roaming in and out of the house may be that night’s dinner, and eggs laid that morning were scrambled into breakfast. Heidy’s family raised ducks (for meat and eggs), turkeys, pigs, rabbits, and various birds. They grew most of their own food and traded with neighbors for milk, beef, goat, and salt and dried cane sugar. All of their grains and beans were prepared by soaking. They grew their own corn that was dried and ground into flour locally. They also made fermented foods such as cortido (a type of Latin American sauerkraut using fermented pineapple vinegar), raw cheeses, sour cream, and fermented drinks. Foods were cooked in butter or lard from their pigs. Though Heidy does not remember it fondly, her mother and grandmother would be sure to use the whole animal when cooking – they did not waste ANYTHING! Any parts inedible were then used to make belts and clothing.
Heidy’s family used salt that was grey and moist from the seaside and their sweets were limited to what they prepared like rice pudding from local pure cane sugar that was thick and brown. She remembers when her mother brought home “white” salt for the first time when she was around 11 or 12. They were all so amazed by it bright uniform texture oblivious to the significance that such a nutrient deficient food meant to their health and that of future El Salvadorian generations. Recently, the first supermarket opened in her hometown bringing both convenience and the scourge of modern foods to her people.
Heidy developed her first cavities three years after leaving El Salvador and adopting a standard American diet. Both of her children have been raised in the U.S., exposed to an American diet, and as a result, have had many cavities from a young age. Though their palates are not as narrowed as their western peers, they are also not as broad as their mother’s.
Heidy has recently learned about the importance of a nutrient diet and has reverted to preparing many traditional foods for her family. She has lost a significant amount of excess body weight that she has originally gained when she moved to the U.S. and began chowing on industrialized foods. Heidy’s kids are super happy with all of their mom’s delicious cooking.
Thank you Luki and Heidy for sharing your stories and your great smiles!
Look around at the faces in your family and community… Are they faces of vitality or signs of degenerating health? While braces can mask the obvious signs of “crooked teeth” they cannot undo insufficient nutrition. Weston Price believe out western civilization was over fed and under nourished. What do you think???
Luckily, it’s never too late introduce real food and experience the benefits of true nourishment. For more information on eating traditional foods for health and pure gastronomical enjoyment, check out the Weston A. Price foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the wisdom that Price uncovered and continues to play out today.
Also, check back over the next few weeks to hear my dearly departed dad’s story and learn about my own dental adventures. Do you or anyone you know have a naturally perfect smile or an interesting dental-diet story to share? Let me know!