We’ve all heard that sugar rots your teeth. But believe it or don’t, there may be something even worse: sugar and starch together.
At least, that’s the case with root decay, according to a study just published in Caries Research.
For it, researchers created typical dental biofilms – plaque – on slabs of root dentin. Dentin is the middle tissue layer of your tooth. On your upper tooth, the enamel protects it, but on the root, it’s protected only by cementum. This tissue is slightly softer than dentin, which makes the root more vulnerable and allows decay to be more aggressive.
The slabs of root dentin were treated with human saliva for one minute 8 times a day, then exposed to 1% starch, 10% sucrose, a combo of both, or a saline control. After 96 hours, the biofilms were then collected and analyzed. Demineralization of the dentin was measured.
Treatment with a starch and sucrose combination provoked higher (p = 0.01) dentine demineralization than sucrose alone…. This was supported by lower pH values (p = 0.007) of the culture medium after daily exposure to the starch and sucrose combination compared with sucrose.
In other words, conditions were more acidic, and acid means demineralization.
And this makes perfect sense. We’ve known for decades that starchy foods, like sugary ones, can mean trouble for teeth. After all, they not only begin to be broken down as sugars as you chew them; they tend to stick to (and between!) the teeth. This allows harmful bacteria and other oral pathogens more opportunity to feed on them and generate the acidic waste that destroys enamel.
More, Weston Price demonstrated many decades ago that white flour – the stuff of many a starchy food – was just as damaging to teeth and orofacial development as white, refined sugar. These were just two of what he called “the displacing foods of modern commerce” – modern, industrially processed foods that replaced the more wholesome foods of traditional diets.
But foods made with industrially processed grains – breads, crackers, pasta, and such – are only some of the starches common in the modern diet. Potatoes are perhaps second only to grains as a source of starch in the standard American diet, where they’re usually eaten in the form of chips, fries, or “frozen potato products” (think Tater Tots and hash browns).
Other starchy foods include corn, peas, root vegetables, and beans, though these all tend to be non-refined and more nutrient-dense. The latter are also balanced by their high protein and fiber content.
But while a bit of whole grain, sprouted grain, or sourdough can be fine now and again, for many of us, it’s easy to let similarly starchy food take over.
Some people can even find it harder to give up starches than sugar.
Fortunately, in these days of gluten-free eating, paleo diets, clean eating, and other food-conscious habits, there are more alternatives than ever to conventional starchy foods – from spiralized vegetable “pastas” to nut flour breads; cauliflower crust pizzas to carrot or parsnip “fries;” zucchini pancakes to squash latkes.
Once you get a few cooking techniques under your belt, it becomes easy to come up with your own variations on the fly.