We have the pleasure to talk with Alvin Danenberg DDS, periodontist and certified functional medicine pratictioner. He’s one of the first periodontists that embraced the evolutionary perspective.
He has a really good blog and we really suggest to read his new book, Crazy-Good Living!: Healthy Gums, Healthy Gut, Healthy Life really insightful and enjoyable, the first that digs deep inside the conncection between oral and overall health.
ALESSIO: Can you give us a brief excursus of your career? How did you step into the evolutionary / functional approach?
DR. DANENBERG: I had a life-changing event. When I was 59 years old, I almost died. I had a stroke. My doctors saved my life, but they put me on 7 prescription medications to take the rest of my life. That did not set well with me. So, I searched for credible information to get healthy. I searched the conventional medical organizations for answers to a healthy diet and lifestyle. When I was 66 years old, I had the opportunity to attend a 5-day nutrition course for healthcare professionals. I thought it would summarize everything I had learned over the past 7 years of my own research. However, this course taught me about ancestral nutrition and lifestyle, something I was totally unfamiliar with. What I learned in those 5 days, changed my life. I learned that everything I was doing for the past 7 years after my stroke were wrong – the information I had learned from “conventional medical organizations” was misleading and incorrect!
So, I went home to my wife, got rid of all processed foods, grains, free-sugars, and overly processed fats. At that point, our cupboards were bare. We then started buying animal products from nose to tail that were pastured and wild caught. We only purchased organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I also incorporated efficient exercise, restorative sleep, and stress reduction in my life.
From the age of 66 until now, (I will be 71 years old in April), I lost about 30 pounds, I reduced my medications from 7 to 2, which I am tapering off, and my blood chemistries are significantly better. I am healthier today than I have ever been.
I learned that this life change was not only beneficial for my body, it could improve the overall health and dental health of my patients. So, I began to incorporate the concepts of ancestral diet and lifestyle with my treatment of gum disease for my patients. Then I pursued advanced education in functional medicine and primal health coaching to round out my holistic treatment for my patients.
ALESSIO: Your brand new book, Crazy Good Living, is really insightful. We really suggest it to our readers. Can you give them a little abstract about it?
DR. DANENBERG: If you knew a train was coming toward you, would you get off the tracks? Your answer will affect your future health. What I learned that saved my life after my stroke when I was 59, I incorporated in Crazy-Good Living.
Our species evolved over the course of 2.5 million years. Modern humans have been in existence for 160,000 years. Nourishment and lifestyle allowed modern humans to excel. Our primal ancestors hardly ever experienced chronic diseases, gum disease, or tooth decay. Similarly, primal societies still in existence today rarely develop any of these diseases. But about 10,000 years ago, some things began to change with the food supply and lifestyle for the inhabitants of an increasingly civilized world.
Today, we are a society that is burdened with many chronic, degenerative diseases. These include gum disease, tooth decay, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and many others. Environmental factors are responsible for some ninety percent of these diseases.
Crazy-Good LIVING! takes a unique look at the human condition with an evolutionary perspective from the point of view of myself, a periodontist (a dentist specializing in gum diseases). Almost everything that enters the body first goes through the mouth. And, almost everything that occurs in the body makes itself known in various tissues of the mouth.
Health requires certain actions: Put good things into your body; avoid bad things that can harm your body; and live a lifestyle that supports your body. Your overall health will thank you with years of vitality and a supercharged quality of life.
Crazy-Good LIVING! tells the story that makes sense. It’s both easy to understand and may even save your life.
ALESSIO: We are very happy to see an evolutionary periodontist. How do your colleagues respond?
DR. DANENBERG: That is a great question. Many of my contemporaries who practice conventional periodontal treatment do not believe the importance of nutrition and lifestyle. For those who have an open mind, the current research I show them has changed their perspective. However, the far majority of my colleagues think I practice on the fringe.
ALESSIO: What is the major resistance to overcome in your environment?
DR. DANENBERG: If you are speaking of my professional dental environment, then the biggest problem is “unteaching” the dogma that was taught and is continuing to be taught in dental schools across the country.
ALESSIO: Are your clients prone to change their lifestyle and to abandon the symptom-centric approach used in conventional medicine?
DR. DANENBERG: I would say that only 5-10% of the patients I see embrace my nutrition and lifestyle recommendations fully. Most of my patients are in their 40s or much older. They have been living the way they have for decades. Now, a guy (me) who seems to be on the fringe is telling them that most of their chronic diseases, including gum disease, are a direct result from poor nutrition and lifestyle – well, that is a bit much for them to accept. But for those who understand my explanations and my personal life story, they begin a journey that is life changing for them.
ANGELO: What do you think about the fluoride issue?
DR. DANENBERG: Fluoride, at best, is a barrier between the cause of tooth decay and the surface of the tooth. Essentially, free sugars cause specific bacteria around the tooth to multiply to unhealthy levels and then decay the tooth. Here is an excellent article published in the Journal of Dental Research by Dr. Sheiham that summarizes the current research on the cause of tooth decay (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Diet+and+Dental+Caries%3A+The+Pivotal+Role+of+Free+Sugars+Reemphasized). In addition, industrially produced fluoride that is added to the water supply may be toxic to the human body.
ANGELO: In your opinion, aside from acellular carbs, what is the role of antinutrients like phytic acid in cavities, gum – periodontal diseases?
DR. DANENBERG: Phytic acids appear in many foods. Nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, and grains store phosphorus as phytic acid. When phytic acid is bound to a mineral in the seed, it’s known as phytate. Phytic acids bind to minerals (especially zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, and calcium) in the foods that we are eating and prevent them from being absorbed through the small intestine. Phytic acid can also interfere with digestive enzymes and can irritate the gut. Generally, damaging phytic acid can be eliminated from nuts and seeds by simply soaking them in salt water overnight before consuming. The major problem for our bodies is the quantity of phytic acid consumed and not merely the consumption, itself. Here, moderation is key.
Some of these minerals are necessary for the remineralization of the tooth surface. Although significant amounts of phytic acid are a potential problem, the biggest problems creating gum disease and tooth decay are the lack of necessary nutrients in the diet, damage to the gut microbiome, damage to the intestinal lining, and resulting chronic systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation compromises the immune system. Chronic inflammation and decreased host response from a compromised immune system create unhealthy changes in the gum tissue cells and bone cells around teeth. Cascading events then occur that eventually lead to dysbiosis in the mouth, gum disease, and tooth decay.
ALESSIO: What should be an ideal formulation for a toothpaste that might help to keep a healthy oral microbiome?
DR. DANENBERG: You don’t need “toothpaste” to clean your teeth. You could just brush correctly with a toothbrush and water, and also clean between the teeth with a tiny brush that is designed to clean between teeth. However, I recommend dipping the toothbrush in a little organic coconut oil and then dipping it into a little baking soda. Then brush.
ALESSIO: We are fans of acellular carbs theory, indeed we had the pleasure to interview the great Ian Spreadbury. I hypothesized that honey seems to be an exception to the carb density index because despite its carbs content, it has antimicrobial properties that may partially prevent bacterial overgrowth. What is your take on this?
DR. DANENBERG: There are exceptions to everything. Local raw unprocessed honey is very healthy. I believe there are over 180 biologically active chemicals in raw honey. However, once raw honey is heated (for example, by putting raw honey in hot tea or coffee), the biological activity is destroyed, leaving just a sugary sweet treat. There are many peer-reviewed published papers that show how raw honey heals wounds externally and internally. Also, there are several excellent articles that show how raw honey heals oral tissues and can be used to reduce the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. But, honey is made up of quite a lot of sugar (fructose: about 38%; and glucose: about 31%). So, moderation is the key.
ALESSIO: What is the future of the ancestral movement in your opinion? Do you foresee a positive trend?
DR. DANENBERG: Ancestral nutrition and lifestyle are not fads. They have allowed our species to survive and thrive, PERIOD. They are not going away. The wisdom from this way of living is growing. There is so much variation in ancestral nutrition and lifestyle that works. The critical point is that there are foods and lifestyles that are contrary to the way our bodies function. These unhealthy “foods” and “lifestyles” must be avoided. Unfortunately, there are people who want to disparage the concepts of the ancestral movement for their personal gain. People that desire to manufacture “supplements” to replace the “real deal” are always going to be out there. And then there are some people who always want to take the opposite view of anything just to be argumentative.
ALESSIO: Do you think that a modern paleo dieter may consider to give up brushing and flossing or that our environment is making these practice mandatory anyway?
DR. DANENBERG: The way we live today is not just dependent on nutritious food. It is also dependent on restorative sleep, efficient exercise, and stress reduction. If we only ate healthy but were unsuccessful with any of the remaining three critical “pillars of health”, then our mouths and the bacteria in our mouths will suffer. We should all engage in good oral hygiene no matter how “Paleo” you are. But, being “Paleo” will improve your overall oral health.
A very special thank to Dr. Danenberg for his knowledge and kindness!!
Thank you very much!