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Weston A. Price, DDS: a pioneer

Dr. Weston A. Price had a successful conventional dental career from about 1890 to the early 1900s, and devoted much of his time to the study of root canals.  This led him to the hypothesis that susceptibility to tooth decay came from a ‘disease’ or dysfunction inside the body, not from bacteria on the teeth.  In other words the teeth were not getting the nutrients they needed to be healthy, and this idea fostered Price’s interest and research in nutrition.

By the mid-1920s Price came to believe that conventional dentistry was only treating the symptoms of tooth decay and poor orthodontic structure that the increasingly industrialized and refined diet was promoting.  White flour and sugar, polished rice, margarine, pastries etc. had become an increasing part of American and European diets since the mid 1800s.  Discovery of the various vitamins and minerals in the early part of the 20th century showed just how nutrient poor these foods were.  These discoveries also prompted Price to do research on the relation of various vitamins and minerals not only to tooth decay but also such diseases as pneumonia and heart disease, and he began to think that poor nutrition was the basis for disease.

But he needed a control group to test his theories and he could not find one among the ‘modernized’ people who lived in ‘civilized’ society.  So he travelled the world during the 1930s seeking “remnants of primitive racial stocks” that still ate their traditional diets and led more physically demanding lifestyles.  This work culminated in his 1939 book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  In essence he visited 14 groups of isolated people from all over the globe who still ate their traditional diets, analyzed and photographed their teeth, and compared them with nearby people of the same racial stock who had succumbed to diets of modern foods. He recorded the primitive diets and took samples of the foods back to his laboratory for analysis of vitamin and mineral content.

Though the diets of these far-flung primitive groups varied widely they had characteristics in common.  They consisted of whole foods that contained ample protein and animal fats high in fat-soluble vitamins (meat, especially organ meats, whole milk products, eggs, fish, seafood, insects), vegetables high in minerals, and no refined or devitalized foods.  After he had analyzed the food samples in his lab he found them to contain at least 4 times the quantity of water-soluble vitamins (C, B complex) and ten times the amounts of vitamins A and D as the American diets of his day1.  Besides their splendid teeth, Price noted the almost complete lack of degenerative disease and superb physical development of the traditional peoples.

Such was not the case with racially identical people of all the groups studied who had been introduced to what Price called the “foods of modern commerce” (sugar, refined flour, polished rice, canned goods, and refined vegetable oils).  These people showed the same decayed teeth, deformed jaws, susceptibility to infectious and degenerative diseases and painful childbirth that occur in modern societies.  And the children of these parents also showed similar deformities to the American and European patients Price saw at home.

Price was not alone in his thinking that good nutrition could prevent dental and physical degeneration.  There were a number of researchers contemporary with Price whose work was scientifically rigorous but who were professionally marginalized and at times considered “food faddists”.  Price and others hoped that the dental and medical professions would become less necessary with the advent of greater understanding of nutrition, food and agriculture.  In other words he was telling his fellow medical professionals in the 1930s and ‘40s that the growth and respectability of their professions was just a symptom of the industrial food system!

Fortunately, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in Price’s research and ideas, especially given absurdly spiraling health care costs and current epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  But, as usual, follow the money.  There is no profit in prevention, only an improved quality of life for those who practice it.

1Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  (La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundaton, 2006 [1939]. 524 p.

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