Some children seem beleaguered by cavities despite doing everything right. Their parents have eliminated sugary foods and drinks from their diet, they brush and floss their teeth regularly, use fluoride toothpastes and varnishes, and still the cavities, enamel defects, and other dental issues persist.
It could be the issue isn’t with the child’s teeth but instead the damage gluten intolerance (or celiac disease) causes to the child’s gut. For children with a gluten intolerance, gluten degrades the lining of the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed from food. As a result, children suffer from malnutrition due to the inflammation and gut damage caused by a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. One of the many consequences of this gut damage is weaker teeth that are more prone to cavities.
Studies Show Gluten Intolerance Causes Cavities and Other Dental Problems
Unfortunately, most dentists aren’t aware that dental problems are a common consequence in children with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease (celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in the gut manifested by gluten sensitivity). These problems include not only frequent cavities and tooth decay, but also defects in the enamel, including white, yellow, or brown spots on the teeth; mottled or translucent teeth; or pitting or banding of the teeth. Dentists often blame these problems on excess fluoride, early childhood fevers or illness, or illness of the mother while the child was in the womb. As such, they miss the opportunity to tell parents about a possible problem their child may have with gluten and poor nutrient absorption due to gut damage. In this case, dental problems are merely a red flag that more serious health problems are at work.
Good Dental Health May Require a Gluten-free Diet and Gut Repair
Many parents have found simply removing gluten from the child’s diet halts and sometimes even reverses tooth decay. For instance, the yellowish brown decaying areas of the teeth begin to diminish as the teeth strengthen. Cavities lessen in number at each visit, or go away all together. This is because gluten is no longer damaging the gut and causing inflammation so that the child can absorb more nutrients from foods. Of course, good dental hygiene and avoiding sugars and fruit juices are still important for dental health.
For other children, simply going gluten-free may not be enough. These children may need supplements and dietary therapy to repair the damaged small intestine and improve nutrient absorption. A damaged small intestine not only impairs nutrient absorption, but also causes inflammation by allowing undigested food into the bloodstream. Once these undigested foods are in the bloodstream they trigger an immune reaction and intolerances to foods other than gluten, most commonly dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and other grains. Repairing dental health may require going off these other foods as well.
An inflamed and damaged gut also allows bacterial and fungal infections to take root. A gut cleanse and course of probiotics may be necessary to restore balance to the gut flora and reduce yeast overgrowth.
Gluten and Food Intolerances Cause Inflammation- Leading to Cavities
Sometimes when gut issues cause cavities it’s also common to see digestives issues, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, acid reflux, or other problems. Gut damage also plays a role in such inflammation-based conditions as eczema, allergies, asthma, behavioral issues, and autism spectrum disorders. However, gut damage can also be asymptomatic.
Parents can run a lab test to screen for problematic foods or have their child follow an elimination diet for several weeks before reintroducing potential problem foods, one at a time, every 72 hours to see whether they trigger a reaction.
Although these diets can be a challenge to implement in our fast-food, sugar-addicted society, many parents find the pronounced improvement in dental health and other conditions makes it worthwhile. And as an added bonus – as inflammation subsides on this diet, many parents say the palate of their normally picky eaters grows to include a wider variety of healthy foods, making meal times less of a struggle.
Originally published October 30, 2012.