Childhood Nutrition and Susceptibility to Cavities

One mild malnutrition episode occurring in the first year of life is associated with increased caries in both the baby and permanent teeth many years later. Dr J. Alvarez, 1995

Mineralization of primary (or baby) and permanent teeth begins before birth and continues with throughout the child’s life.  Unlike bones, the structure and texture of teeth is determined by the health and nutritional status at the time of tooth formation.  Like growth rings in a tree, the quality of the enamel and dentin form a permanent record of conditions during formation.  If nutrition is deficient at anytime during tooth formation, the enamel and dentin developing at that time may be poorly or underdeveloped, a condition referred to as hypoplastic.

During the 1920’s, Lady Mellanby and colleagues in England examined over 1200 baby teeth from British children.  The teeth were classified either as normal, with well developed enamel and dentin, through to very hypoplastic, with irregular and incomplete enamel and defects in the dentin.  About 21% were considered normal, and 35% very hypoplastic, with the remainder being slightly to moderately hypoplastic.

The development of cavities varied drastically with the structure of the teeth. Normal teeth with well developed enamel and dentin are highly resistant to dental decay.  Almost 80% of the normal teeth examined were cavity-free.


Distribution in the degree of cavities for the normal, well-mineralized teeth. Almost 80% of the well-mineralized teeth were completely free of decay.

In contrast, the very hypoplastic teeth, with incomplete and poorly formed enamel and irregular dentin, were highly susceptible to decay, with 75% having advanced decay (Category III).

Distribution in the degree of cavities for the very hypoplastic, poorly-calcified teeth. About 75% of the hypoplastic teeth showed advanced tooth decay (Catergory III).

The well mineralized teeth had 10 times fewer cavities than the poorly mineralized, hypoplastic teeth.

Nutrition and Development of Perfect Teeth

Lady Mellanby also undertook extensive animal studies to determine the important dietary conditions that resulted in either normal, well mineralized teeth, or hypoplastic and poorly mineralized.   Her experiments with dogs paralleled those of her husband, Dr Edward Mellanby, who was studying the childhood bone disease, rickets.

When growing puppies or their pregnant mothers were fed a poor diet with limited amount of skim milk, together with cereals and lean meat, defectively formed, poorly mineralized teeth resulted.  If a source of vitamin D was added, such as cod liver oil or egg yolk, the structure of the teeth greatly improved.  The addition of extra calcium resulted in perfectly developed teeth.  Cereals have an anticalcifying action. When vitamin D or calcium intake was inadequate, and the cereal content of the diet was increased, the teeth tended to be worse in structure and poorly mineralized.

Natural development of well-mineralized, decay resistant teeth require optimal nutrition and a mineralizing diet beginning as early as the second trimester of pregnancy and continuing throughout childhood. Once formed, well mineralized teeth remain highly resistant to decay. A marked deficiency in mineralizing agents, particularly calcium and vitamin D, any time during tooth formation can result in poorly-developed or hypoplastic tooth enamel and dentin, which can lead to a lifetime of susceptibility to tooth decay.

This entry was posted in Dental Researchers, May Mellanby, nutrition, prevent cavities, tooth decay, Uncategorized, vitamin d. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Childhood Nutrition and Susceptibility to Cavities

  1. Anna says:

    “Natural development of well-mineralized, decay resistant teeth require optimal nutrition and a mineralizing diet beginning as early as the second trimester of pregnancy and continuing throughout childhood. Once formed, well mineralized teeth remain highly resistant to decay. ”

    This statement really got my attention. I’ve long wondered about my 12 yo’s apparent resistance to tooth decay (both his parents have needed lots of restorations for childhood tooth decay, despite regular dental care). My son has incredibly lazy tooth brushing habits, especially in recent years as he gains independence, yet so far no cavities even though I curtailed all fluoride product use around the time he entered kindergarten.

    I used to think his strong teeth were due to the generous amounts of butter in his food, which certainly doesn’t hurt (for the past couple years I have made sure to choose vitamin-rich grass fed butter, too), but now I wonder that his strong teeth simply started out very strong, in utero. During my second trimester, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and I gave up my high carb ways for a very low carb diet in order to meet my blood glucose target range (very strict). I consumed very little bread or wheat products at all for the remainder of the pregnancy, which meant that more of my diet consisted of nutrient-dense foods. It was very frustrating at the time to have to eat in a particular way, but in hindsight I am grateful, because during the 2nd half of the pregnancy I had to be aware of the nutrient content of every single bite I took; my diet improved considerably when I restricted grains and other relatively “empty” high carb foods. Since then, my “paradigm” has shifted very much, and I no longer “mourn” the loss of grainy foods. It’s very possible one benefit of my low grain/low phytate diet during pregnancy is my son’s decay-resistant teeth and his very dense strong bones (while not overweight at all, he is much heavier than he looks for his size).

    You have a great blog that more parents should know about (I posted a link on my Facebook page). I own a 1934 copy of Mellanby’s book Nutrition and Disease (thanks to Stephan Guyenet, Ph.D., for alerting me to it’s existence), so I am familiar with the Drs. Edward and May Mellanby’s research. I only wish I’d known about the Mellanby’s and Dr. Weston A. Price’s research many years (even decades) earlier.

  2. Kathy Louise says:

    Thanks to you for this article. My son is 16 and seems to fight with cavities even though he is a good brusher, etc.. I have worked for many Dentists who insist all enamel is the same and no one is born with “soft teeth or anything to that nature. My husband growing up had the same problems and filling after filling. I however have only 1 filling and am 40. while I was pregnant I did not take good care of myself, had high stress and poor diet. My son is very thin and can’t gain a pound. He struggled as a baby with milk and we didn’t have flouride in our water. It’s a day to day struggle with teeth!!

    • Meg says:

      You say your son is very thin, can’t gain, and has problems with his teeth. This might indicate a malabsorption problem, such as celiac disease.

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