One of the first books I read when nutrition first piqued my interest was Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, DDS. It was published in 1939 and chronicles the global travels of Dr. Price as he assessed vastly diverse groups of people through the lens of their mouths. As a dentist, Weston Price knew that the health of the oral cavity is a direct reflection of the overall health of the body. But there’s more to this story than straight teeth and the absence of cavities.
In the 1920s and 30s, Price noticed a disturbing trend: within a decade, most of the children in his dental practice were presenting with crowded, crooked teeth, impacted wisdom teeth, and an alarmingly high rate of dental caries. Prior to that, most people had adequate space in their mouths for all their teeth to properly align, including all four wisdom teeth, and cavities were relatively rare. Price surmised that the reason for this negative trend was due to what he called “the foods of modern commerce”.
When you think about it, there really weren’t that many processed foods in 1930. And yet sugar consumption was higher than it had ever been. Check out this chart (1):
It’s important to note that the only reason for that downturn in the early 1940s was because there was a world war being waged. As soon as the war was over, sugar and processed foods were once again on the rise. The amount of sugar consumed in the US more than doubled between 1900 and 2000 – increasing from roughly 50 lbs. per person per year in 1900 to over 100 lbs. per person per year in 2000. (For a fascinating read on the history of sugar and its ties to slavery, check out Sugar Blues, by William Dufty.) Today, the US still has the highest consumption of sugar in the world, along with the direct consequences thereof: diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Price’s book is full of fascinating images of indigenous people with gorgeous teeth and wide, beautiful faces. It was written at a pivotal point in history when pockets of people were still eating their native diets, untouched by modern foods. And, amazingly, these were societies who didn’t know what a toothbrush was, let alone dental floss.
When Price initially arrived at each new village, he would meet with the tribal leader and then the entire community would line up with their mouths gaping. Price would shake their hands and congratulate them on their oral health, as he documented their diet and marveled at their vitality and lack of chronic disease. In addition to their extraordinary dental health, every population he visited were profoundly robust. There was no arthritis, heart disease, or depression and their diets varied considerably – from raw milk to primarily fish to insects, depending on what was available to them.
Today, we blindly assume that kids will naturally have cavities and require orthodontics. Having one’s wisdom teeth removed is considered a rite of passage. And yet all three of these consequences of physical degeneration were inconceivable less than 100 years ago.
When we dig a little deeper, let’s consider that children who were born in the early 1900s, the same kids who experienced dental issues in the 1920s, were the generation that began dropping like flies from heart disease in the 1960s (2):
Now, let’s be clear: the only reason we see a decline in deaths from the 1970s forward is due to better intervention. The advent of the 911 system, stents, bypasses, and other surgical procedures has prevented countless deaths, but make no mistake: heart disease is still the #1 cause of death in the US.
Not a day goes by, not a single client interaction, that I’m not reminded of this big WHY it’s my mission to educate and change the world. The world needs to be reminded of the health and vitality of past generations and how we’ve lost our way.
If you’re a change-maker, won’t you join me in this mission?
In health and wholeness,