While childhood is full of surprises, some parents are unprepared for the staggering dental bills and persistent cavities children get, even when they brush and floss regularly. Parents know to restrict sugar, but what they may not realize is that a hidden gluten intolerance and poor gut health, not a fluoride deficiency, may be the cause of those cavities.

Fortunately, help can be just a meal away. Many have witnessed a near-miraculous halting of dental decay simply by putting their child on a gluten-free diet and restoring gut health.

Gluten intolerance causes wide range of dental defects

Defects in dental enamel are common in children who cannot tolerate gluten. In some children, dental problems may be the only symptom of a gluten intolerance or celiac disease (an autoimmune gluten intolerance). In addition to tooth decay, one may see enamel defects: white, yellow, or brown spots on the teeth; mottled or translucent teeth; pitting or banding of the teeth. Unfortunately, the majority of dentists peg these problems on excess fluoride or an early illness, missing an opportunity to alert parents to a possible gluten intolerance.

Going beyond gluten to repair the gut and stop cavities

For many children, simply transitioning to a gluten-free diet works wonders for halting decay and improving dental health. Others may need more intensive dietary restrictions and nutritional therapy. This is because gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, causing it to become inflamed and porous. As a result, the small intestine cannot properly absorb nutrients from food, causing malnutrition. This also allows undigested food to escape into the bloodstream, triggering an immune reaction and intolerances to foods other than gluten, most commonly dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and other grains.

The inflamed and damaged intestinal walls also disturb the balance of bacteria in the gut, allowing bacterial and fungal infections to take root. The overall result is a chronically inflamed, poorly functioning gut. Sometimes (but not always) other digestives issues, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or acid reflux, are also present.

Gluten and food intolerances cause inflammation, which may lead to cavities

Together these conditions can cause not only tooth decay and poor dental health but also other inflammation-based conditions, such as eczema, allergies, or behavioral issues. Taming the inflammation and allowing the gut to repair may require your child follow a diet that eliminates foods in addition to those containing gluten. Parents can run a lab test to screen for problematic foods or have their child follow an elimination diet for several weeks before reintroducing potential problem foods, one at a time, every 72 hours to see whether they trigger a reaction.

Although these diets can be a challenge to implement in our fast-food, sugar-addicted society, many parents find the pronounced improvement in dental health and other conditions makes it worthwhile. Bonus: as inflammation subsides on this diet, many parents say the palate of their normally picky eaters grows to include a wider variety of healthy foods, making meal times less of a struggle.

Ask me for tips and strategies to help improve your child’s dental health.