I've seen this Natural News article popping out a lot recently.

It claims that dental caries is not caused by bacteria but by poor nutrition:

which results in minerals being pulled from bones, causing tooth and bone loss

It strongly hints, without explicitly stating it, that the correct diet can repair cavities and "get your pearly white smile back"

How scientifically valid is any of this?

  • 22
    Bacteria do not consume processed sugar or flour because of the lack of nutrients in them. This single sentence shows that whoever wrote that does not even have basic biology knowledge.
    – nico
    Dec 17, 2013 at 20:28
  • 1
    The original source is from this book: Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition, 2nd Edition by Ramiel Nagel, it has even "x-ray proof that cavities can heal" ?
    Dec 20, 2013 at 13:38
  • @nico can you enlighten us people without basic biology knowledge ?
    – GinKin
    Dec 23, 2013 at 20:28
  • Leslie Fish at lesliebard.blogspot.com/2012/08/… claims to have treated cavities chemically, but not via nutrition. Dec 23, 2013 at 22:26
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    @GinKin: well, many bacteria can grow very nicely on starch, which is the main sugar in flour, they just need to possess an enzyme called alpha amylase. In the lab these bacteria can be grown on a medium called "starch agar". Also saying that processed sugar (i.e. white sugar) "lacks nutrients" is ridiculous, for the very definition of nutrient.
    – nico
    Dec 23, 2013 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


Extrinsic sugars plus bacteria cause cavities

The hypothesis that intake of non-milk extrinsic sugars1 continues to be the main threat for dental health is well-supported by the evidence.

The introduction to (Harris et al. 2012) reviews this evidence.

Sugars, particularly sucrose, are the most important dietary aetiological cause of dental caries. The evidence establishing sugars as an aetiological factor in dental caries is overwhelming.

Studies acknowledge that only extrinsic sugars are implicated in this relationship. ("Foods rich in starch, without the addition of sugars, play a small role in coronal dental caries", (Harris et al., citing Moynihan and Petersen 2004)).

The evidence comes from many different types of investigation including human studies (both observational and intervention), human plaque pH studies (in which the pH of plaque is monitored in situ following ingestion of a test substance), enamel slab experiments (in which slabs of bovine enamel are fitted in a removable oral appliance and worn during periods of consumption of experimental diets and subsequently the level of demineralisation is measured), animal studies and incubation studies of oral bacteria and dietary substrates in vitro. (Moynihan and Petersen 2004)

Bacteria do consume processed sugar. From (Moynihan and Petersen 2004):

Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus are important bacteria in the development of dental caries.


Mutans streptococcal invertase splits sucrose into glucose and fructose, which can be metabolised to produce mainly lactic but also other acids including acetic and formic acid.


Regarding interventions, the claim that introducing dairy into ones diet is helpful is supported by two studies. "Milk and cheese can reduce the effects of metabolic acids and help restore enamel lost during eating" (Harris et al. 2012, citing Aloha et al. 2002 and Kashket et al. 2002).

The systematic review (Harris et al. 2012) found that:

  • most of the studies concerning sugar consumption are of relatively weak quality,
  • the evidence for dietary advice aiming to change sugar consumption is poor, and that
  • further studies in this area should be considered.

This was because there is a dearth of studies examining the advice to change sugar consumption as an intervention and those that do exist have methodological weaknesses. Even though sugar is clearly linked by the evidence through a causal chain to dental cavities, that does not automatically mean that the best (or even useful) intervention is advice to change diet. Possible reasons are poor compliance, improvements masked by simply following toothbrushing advice, etc. The authors conclude that further systematic research needs to be done.

1. Non-milk extrinsic sugars are sugars not incorporated into the cellular structure of foods and not milk sugars (lactose).


Ahola, A. J., Heli Yli-Knuuttila, T. Suomalainen, T. Poussa, A. Ahlström, Jukka H. Meurman, and R. Korpela. "Short-term consumption of probiotic-containing cheese and its effect on dental caries risk factors." Archives of oral biology 47, no. 11 (2002): 799-804.

Arens, Ursula. "Oral health: diet and other factors." Nutrition Bulletin 24, no. 1 (1999): 41-44.

Harris R, Gamboa A, Dailey Y, Ashcroft A. One-to-one dietary interventions undertaken in a dental setting to change dietary behaviour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD006540. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006540.pub2.

Kashket, Shelby, and Dominick P. DePaola. "Cheese consumption and the development and progression of dental caries." Nutrition reviews 60, no. 4 (2002): 97-103.

Moynihan, Paula, and Poul Erik Petersen. "Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases." Public health nutrition 7, no. 1A; SPI (2004): 201-226.

  • This seems to focus mostly on prevention not cure, as the question asked, unless I am reading it correctly. Dec 21, 2014 at 23:31

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