George Washington didn't have wooden teeth...
But his teeth were probably so brown that they looked like wood.
In addition to being the first president of the United States and chopping down a cherry tree, George Washington is famous for having bad teeth.
Washington began losing teeth in his twenties, and by the time he was elected president, at age 57, he had just one natural tooth.
As a result, Washington underwent a number of painful dental procedures. He had several sets of dentures made with horrendous materials like hippopotamus ivory, metal fasteners, and worst of all, teeth taken from the people he enslaved.
If you look closely at his face on the dollar bill, you'll see that his mouth is slightly distended due to his dentures. His brown, wooden-looking teeth were due to a lack of care.
Fortunately, dental care has come a long way since the 1700s. But lots of people still rely on dentures. According to Statista, over 40 million Americans used dentures in 2020.
Too many folks think that dentures are an inevitable part of old age. Today, we're here to tell you they aren't. You just need to think about how and what you chew...
Chew harder, not softer.
Most people think that one of the best ways to save your teeth from becoming weak and damaged is to avoid eating hard foods, but they're wrong. Eating too many soft foods is actually part of the problem.
That's because chewing firm or coarse foods puts needed pressure on the bones and muscles in and around your jaw, giving them a workout.
In 2019, researchers in Tokyo compared the effects of a "hard food" diet and a "soft food" diet on the jaw structure of mice. (The hard-food diet included a harder-than-normal form of cornstarch which caused the mice to chew more.) The researchers found that the mice that ate the hard-food diet developed stronger chewing muscles and had better bone formation in their mouths than the mice that ate a soft diet.
But don't chew things like taffy, which can pull out fillings, or extremely hard foods like ice. Over time, these will wear down the enamel in your teeth. And definitely don't chew on non-food items, like pen caps or fingernails.
Let your food clean your teeth.
Chewing firmer foods also helps naturally clean your teeth...
We've said before that cleaning your teeth is a literal lifesaver. Flossing and brushing removes the plaque buildup in your gums. Getting those bacteria away from your gums means the germs can't get into your gums and, therefore, into your bloodstream.
And while not a replacement for good flossing and brushing, some foods help keep your teeth clean.
According to the American Dental Association, foods that are high in fiber, like some fruits and vegetables, are just abrasive enough to clean your teeth and gums without damaging them. Some of the best ones are celery, carrots, and apples.
These types of foods are also hard enough to get your jaw working harder and chewing more, so you get the added benefit of strengthening bones and muscles.
Give good digestion a head start.
Chewing your food is also an important part of the digestive process. As my friend Dr. Param Dedhia wrote in an article for us a few years ago...
Chewing starts the production of amylase, an enzyme in your saliva that breaks down starches and sugar. You need to produce amylase to break down your food, but it also acts as a trigger to signal the rest of your digestive system to get going.
But it's not just the enzymes at work here. If we don't start the mechanical breakdown process in our mouths, the rest of our system has to work much harder to digest the food. Since we make less acid and enzymes as we age, those larger pieces of food lead to bloating, discomfort, and other symptoms. So you need to chew to make things easier on the rest of your body.
Finally, when you slow down your eating and chew your food well, you actually get to taste it. This is a concept of something that I practice called mindful eating...
I love to frequent Michelin-quality restaurants to try their chef's tasting menu. I take my time to savor each course, spending hours enjoying the experience. I moan, I compliment, I smile... It's a wonderful practice of mindful eating. And many times, the chef wanders out to meet the crazy old guy having so much fun with his food.
But guess what? There's solid science behind it. A 2018 Japanese study found that folks who reported eating slowly (instead of moderately or quickly) had a 42% lower risk of obesity in a five-year period.
It makes sense... Taking your time to eat allows you to produce the hormones needed to trigger the feeling of fullness before you overeat. It takes about 20 minutes for all the chemicals in your stomach to tell your brain you are at full satiety. So make your meals at least 20 minutes.
Now, there's no exact measure for timing a meal to see if you're eating slowly or quickly. But a good trick is to pay attention to your chewing. Chewing mindfully means taking your time. Try setting down your utensils in between bites and paying attention to how you feel and how the meal tastes. Take breaks between bites. And good conversation or a beverage will help – I prefer a clean, elegant wine with my meals.
What We're Reading...
- Read Dr. Param Dedhia's other tips for better digestion.
- Something different: How to talk about disability sensitively and avoid ableist tropes.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 18, 2022