The One Thing You Can Do To Stop Getting Cavities And Gum Disease
This post would get a mile long if I tried to list all the reasons why people do or don’t do certain things. But I do know this: when we are presented with a challenge, we all want the easiest solution. If a problem is too complex, the solution can also be too complex to execute. H. L. Menken once said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”. Humorously stated, and true some, or even most of the time. I will try to avoid this mistake in today’s post.
To counter Menken( who was a satirist) I would like to discuss William of Occam. His principle is called Occam’s Razor and states that when looking for an answer to a problem, “one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed”. Put another way, he is guiding us to disregard the variables that are not needed to explain a phenomenon. The example of getting from point A to point B is a perfect illustration. The best answer is a straight line. However, there are infinite meandering ways to go from A to B. Designing a model to predict all the ways would be impossible.
Minimal effective dose is the idea that there exists the smallest dose that produces all (or most of) the desired outcome. Take boiling water for instance. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Any less, and it will not boil, any more, and it will not boil more than it already is. Painting a wall is a better example. One coat may get 85% of the desired result. Two coats may get 99%. You must decide if the third coat is even worth placing. Certainly, after the third coat, you now have 100% coverage, and applying more coats will have no effect on the color of the wall. It may even detract as drips and smudges accumulate.
Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis is a great book that was the result of trying to simplify heart disease prevention. As a practicing cardiologist, Dr. Davis noticed that all the recommendations he gave to his patients to prevent heart disease were just not working. Sometimes because the recommendations were wrong, but often because they were too complex. Using Occam’s Razor, he was able to eliminate many steps. Using the principle of minimal effective dose he was able to further reduce his recommendations and came up with the idea of just giving up wheat to make you healthier and prevent heart disease. His results were startling. Incidentally, Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter is similar and addresses the benefits to brain health by giving up grains in the diet.
It is important to stress that there are many more things patients can and should do to prevent heart disease and neurological decline. Dr. Davis and Dr. Perlmutter are not suggesting that the common recommendations are all useless. On the contrary, once patients have mastered the elimination of wheat and grains, it is important to try to add the other preventive elements.
Dentistry is no different than cardiology and neurology when it comes to offering preventive advice. I would hope that people cared enough to do everything possible to stay away from getting cavities and gum disease. This is just not the case. Most of my patients don’t floss. I don’t judge them for it. We all have differing priorities, levels of free time, things that distract us and let’s face it, things we will never really care much about. That does not stop me from trying to motivate them.
When patients get diagnosed with a cavity or gum disease, I take it as my duty to find out why so that in the future, it won’t happen again. They are typically thankful that I took the time to root out the causative agents of their disease. What the patient does with this new knowledge varies. Many times preventive routines are just too difficult, complex or just not of interest to patients.
Applying Occam’s Razor and the principle of Minimal Effective Dose, I have come up with a similar recommendation. I am going out on a professional limb and suggesting that if you put a gun to my head and asked me the single most important thing to do to eliminate oral disease, I would have to say: Give up processed carbohydrates for a cavity free mouth. I would like to state for the record that you should still brush and floss and go for cleanings every six months. I will not waste any time explaining the science behind this. You can read about why in my previous posts about tooth decay and gum disease here and here. Maybe I will write a book and call it “Carb Mouth”.
Change is difficult for many, even if it means only changing one thing. Especially if it is a big thing. Almost 60% of our diets are processed foods. (1)The reasons are many. They are tastey, cheap, and convenient for starters. Most people already know that processed foods are not healthy. In light of this fact, giving these foods up is really a behavioral issue.I recommend reading my post three easy ways to trigger positive changes in your life to help you change your behavior. Once you have changed this one thing, you will have eliminated the one major cause of tooth decay and gum disease and should be ready to add the next change. Giving up smoking is another great way to go. Read about it in my previous post here. Giving up sipping lemon infused water all day is also a great idea. I could go on and on, but Occam is tapping me on the shoulder and its time to hush up for now.