Traditional human diets contained no added sugar, so native tribes didn’t experience tooth decay. They were also mostly free of chronic, degenerative disease.

Too much sugar in the diet leads to tooth decay and degenerative illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
Too much sugar in the diet leads to tooth decay and degenerative illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

That’s not a coincidence. Modern society consumes sugar in excess and suffers not only tooth decay but also higher rates of cancer and heart disease. We shouldn’t be surprised.

What causes tooth decay or dental caries? A strain of bacteria known as Streptococcus mutans. There is also a dietary component, namely, the consumption of sugar.

The bacteria use sugar to make a sticky coat, which helps them adhere to the tooth and provide acid to dissolve it.  If the bacteria cannot stick to the tooth, they cannot cause tooth decay.

We can try to make the tooth more resistant to the acid with fluoride; however, we are fooling ourselves because this same diet is causing systemic disease as well.

The question is, has there ever been a society without tooth decay?

Tooth Decay and Degenerative Disease: Primitive vs. Modern Diet

Native tribes thrived. Tooth decay was non-existent and degenerative disease was largely unheard of.
Native tribes thrived. Tooth decay was non-existent and degenerative disease was largely unheard of.
Photo courtesy of Aino Tuominen from Pixabay

Research has determined that humankind began suffering dental caries and degenerative disease in approximately 10,000 BC when the diet changed from hunter-gatherer to one based on agriculture.

Interestingly, the hunter-gatherer:

“rarely died of coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other ailments common in societies like ours. They may not have been healthier in absolute terms, but they did not have infection and osteoarthritis and rarely had chronic diseases that we commonly do.”

White, George E.
“Diet, Dental Caries and Other Degenerative Diseases”
Journal of Oral Biology
June 2015 Volume 2 Issue 2

The dietary transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture was marked most notably by the introduction of grain.

This “resulted in tooth decay, osteoporosis, and anemia, which are early signs of degeneration. These are the same findings that are noted today in children with ECC (early childhood caries) and S-ECC (severe-early childhood caries).”

White, George E.
“Diet, Dental Caries and Other Degenerative Diseases”
Journal of Oral Biology
June 2015 Volume 2 Issue 2
The change to agriculture led to tooth decay and degenerative diseases.
The change to agriculture led to tooth decay and degenerative diseases.
Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

In the 1930s, Dr. Weston Price studied indigenous groups throughout the world, specifically taking note of their traditional diets, rich in essential food factors.

Price found these populations to be free of tooth decay and degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease. Interestingly, these are the leading causes of death in the U.S. today. Unlike those primitive groups, we also have tooth decay!

Current data from the U.S. government show that dental cavities in children precede degenerative diseases later in life. “Other studies have found degenerative changes during adolescence.” Clearly, “diet and dental caries should be given greater importance, as they can be an indicator of the probability of future degenerative diseases.”

Putting It All Together

Here’s what we know, according to the research:

1. Tooth decay appears to be an early indicator of systemic degenerative diseases:

(a) Tooth decay appears before other clinical degenerative disease(s).

(b) All of these diseases are diet-related, and linked specifically to sugar, grain, and starch.

(c) Historically, these diseases appear together.

2. Tooth decay and other degenerative diseases began to afflict society with the introduction of grains to the diet, and the corresponding shift from hunter-gatherer to an agriculture-based diet.

3. Primitive people were free of tooth decay and degenerative diseases until the introduction of the modern diet.

 4. Children with the highest consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages have early childhood cavities, and this is related to overweight, obesity, kidney disease, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.


White, George E.
“Diet, Dental Caries and Other Degenerative Diseases”
Journal of Oral Biology
June 2015 Volume 2 Issue 2

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