The Prevention of Dental Caries and Oral Sepsis

By H.P. Pickerill, MD

Summary: Today we take cavities to be a given, as if the decay of human teeth were part of the natural order. Yet the rate of cavities in prehistoric human beings was extremely low, as is that of animals in the wild. Thus, tooth decay is not Nature’s work, but humankind’s. In fact, it is the most prevalent of the modern “diseases of civilization” (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental illness, etc.), and it has been since its rate exploded in industrial countries in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1912 Dr. Henry Pickerill, Director of the Dental School at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and leader in the investigation of dental health, released a book comprising a series of lectures he’d given over the period of 1906 to 1910. In the following excerpts from that book, Dr. Pickerill contrasts the diets of cavity-ridden, industrialized countries with those of various unindustrialized populations virtually immune to tooth decay. Though the latter groups differed wildly in their eating habits, from the practically carnivorous Eskimos to the fruit-and-root eaters of the Pacific islands, their diets all shared one thing in common: a complete lack of processed and refined foods. Unfortunately, Dr. Pickerill’s investigations occurred before the discovery of the vitamins. It wasn’t until 1923 that a young dental student, Dr. Royal Lee, would connect the dots between the professor’s works and studies of the recently discovered “vitamines” to conclude that tooth decay—and, in fact, all the diseases of civilization—were the result of systemic nutrient deficiency, caused by the mass consumption of industrialized foods. Today, despite a century of brushing and flossing, tooth decay remains as prevalent as it was in Dr. Pickerill’s time, and unless we return to a diet of only unadulterated organic foods, cavities will remain unnaturally common. Published by Bailliere, Tindall and Cox, London, 1912. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 132.