In November 2014 Ashley Redmond and her husband Tim Nowak were devastated to find that their 9 month old exclusively breastfed daughter Claire had tooth decay. Unhappy with the invasive and risky options she was given, Ashley decided to take a gamble and heal them on her own through a special diet. After her first set of caps, she decided to stop the interventions- no fillings, no surgery, no fluoride. Ashley’s is an incredible story of determination, willpower, the miraculous healing power of food, and the wisdom of a mother’s gut instinct.
I am very excited to share her story with you- the struggles, the triumphs, how she did it, and some of her favorite healing food ideas & recipes.
*Note: To protect Claire’s privacy, her parents have asked that we blur her face.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Ashley. Tell me a little bit about you!
I was born, raised, and married in Green Bay. Up until just 3 years ago, I worked 12-hour shifts in the Emergency Department of an area Trauma Center. I traded that all in when I became pregnant, and am now working 24-hour shifts as a stay-at-home-mom to our 19-month old daughter, and have never been more challenged… or fulfilled.
My husband, Tim, is a full time Paramedic in the city of Winona, MN (I’ll be relocating to join him soon) and we are also proud parents to 3 goofy and snuggly rescued pit bulls. I am a self-professed book nerd, animal rights advocate, reality show addict, and comfy-clothes homebody.
In time, I seriously look forward to picking back up on my running habit, and completing a few more half-marathons to add to my list. Until then, I’ll happily continue spending my days on trips to the library, coloring hearts and stars with sidewalk chalk, taking all four of my “kids” out for walks in the sunshine, and nursing a giggly toddler to sleep.
When did you first notice there was a problem with Claire’s teeth, and what did you do for treatment?
By the age of 8 months old, Claire already had 8 teeth. It was when she was just 9 months old, however, that I first noticed something abnormal.
In December of 2014 I noticed a light brown spot on the biting edge of her top left lateral incisor. It was comparable to the color of peanut butter. It looked as if the enamel was gone, but because it was on the bottom edge of the tooth (as opposed to the surface, between teeth, or at the gum line) I considered that it could possibly have gotten chipped. It definitely wasn’t smooth. Because I had heard it recommended that children have their first dental appointment by the age of one, I figured it was the right time to go get it checked out.
When Claire was first seen, the dentist said what she most likely had was simply a discolored spot on her tooth. She said it wasn’t a cavity because it wasn’t “spongey,” and to simply watch it. By the next week, I was calling to have the dentist see Claire again. I told the dentist that I couldn’t explain it, but that her tooth looked “shorter.” Sure enough, the dentist agreed that the tooth needed to be capped. Because she couldn’t say for sure if the tooth had gotten chipped, or if it was decay, she actually submitted it as both for the insurance claim. They scheduled the general anesthesia procedure for February. This was now mid-December, and it had been 3 weeks since I first noticed the brown spot.
The following week, however, I called the dentist’s office again, demanding that Claire’s procedure be
scheduled as soon as possible. Her tooth had decayed to barely 2 mm past the gum line at this point. I was adamant that there wasn’t going to BE a tooth if we waited any longer. To compound my alarm, her other upper lateral incisor was developing the very same brown, rough spot as the first one had.
I must have made an impression on the dentist; she agreed to do the procedure over her lunch break the very next week, the first week of January. Claire was 11 months old. The anesthesiologist and OR nurse said she was the youngest they’d seen for dental work. The two caps were placed. At this point I wasn’t yet too concerned about decay being a chronic issue.
What about fluoride?
Going in to our first appointment, I had made it clear that I was not comfortable with fluoride. I was relieved when Dr. Meredith accepted that, and never suggested it again. This past July, however, when Dr. Meredith was on maternity leave, we discovered Claire had more decay. We were seen by Dr. Eric.
I asked Dr. Eric about a possible correlation I had read about between celiac disease and child enamel defects. He barely acknowledged my question. I believe “mm hmm” was all I got. He addressed our night nursing, even thinking that if I wasn’t willing to wean (eyebrow raised), that I need to at least wipe her teeth or brush them. WHILE SHE SLEPT. Seriously.
Then he had the gall to say “I suppose you’re one of those people who is against fluoride?”
Now, as I explained to him, I am fully aware that the biological and neurological effects of fluoride may vary greatly and are fully dependent upon both dosage as well as route of administration. As I am fully against the ingestion of fluoride as it is a neurotoxin, I understand that there may be clinical indications for topical application on dentin. He told me at this point that I should consider prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste for Claire, and to make sure to brush her teeth at least twice daily.
“But Dr. Eric,” I replied, “She’s 15 months old. Isn’t she going to swallow whatever toothpaste I give her?”
“Well, yes,” he answered, “But you wouldn’t be using that much.”
…he just didn’t want to hear me.
I declined the fluoride toothpaste, and was told that there really just wasn’t any way around “fixing” Claire’s latest decay without the following procedures:
4 caps on her top central incisors and canines
2 fillings on her bottom premolars
And he strongly urged that we place sealants on 2 other teeth, if not also over top of the 2 fillings as well.
That’s right… it was July, just 6 months after she had to be put under, x-rayed and have caps placed… and she had no less than 5 cavities.
This news just deflated my confidence. I had been doing everything “right,” in an effort to avoid ever again
needing to go through what she had to go through (no juices, no sugars, no chewy fruit, still 95% exclusively breastfed, sips of water straight from a cup after nursing, brushing her teeth with remineralizing paste), and yet here we were again. After this news sat for a few days and my nerve came back, I started wanting more answers and wasn’t quite so willing to roll over just yet.
I went and got a second opinion from a pediatric dentist in Appleton (Dr. Gonzo). Sadly, his opinion was to be even MORE aggressive in treatment. He insisted upon prescription fluoride toothpaste, and instead of the 4 caps recommended by Dr. Eric, he noticed decay above her current caps and said that those needed to be removed and replaced… for a total of SIX caps.
By this time, her teeth had taken on a blue hue due to being so thin from demineralization. Dr. Gonzo also pointed out what looked like her enamel actually shearing off her canines, not unlike how a snow Avalanche looks when it’s shearing off the side of a cliff. My stomach really sank when he addressed the likelihood of her not-yet-arrived molars developing severe decay as well… or the few healthy teeth still remaining. He said we’re looking at having to do this “a few times” before her adult teeth even arrived. I was sick to my stomach with this. It seemed like I really had no options but to constantly play catch up to whatever was destroying my child’s teeth. And it was a losing battle.
What treatments did you go ahead with, and where did you get the ideas from? Did you have support from your dentist?
My instinct was strong in saying that something was off, but with so many experts and family agreeing that “it just has to be done,” I began doubting myself. At one point I finally gave in and agreed, but I demanded the MSDS sheets of all substances that would be placed in her mouth. That was what kickstarted my new determination to know EXACTLY what I was agreeing to.
When I read about the fluoride that is impregnanted into fillings, with the sole purpose to provide a continuous leech of fluoride for upwards of 3 years, I HATED it, but rationalized that I still could provide Claire with food that helps the body flush fluoride… so I started planning for the addition of sea vegetables, tamarind, rose hips, even boron.
Then I learned that sealants are made with a plastic that contains compounds, which when exposed to salivary enzymes, converts to BPA. Claire would constantly have BPA, a neurotoxin, IN HER MOUTH.
The MSDS sheets cited needing to avoid inhalation or direct skin contact with ingredients that they were going to IMPLANT IN MY BABY’S MOUTH.
….CUE THE PANIC ATTACKS.
Here is where I started searching for “alternatives to fillings and sealants.”
I came across a video blog made by a mom. If my life depended on finding it, I probably couldn’t. I scrolled every page and read every article out of desperation when I was trying to find something – anything – that would provide me with an alternative treatment for Claire. In this video blog, the mom begins describing her 2 year old breastfed child having severe decay, being told she needed to have caps and fillings… essentially, she was describing our EXACT predicament.
She went on to urge listeners to read the book “Cure Tooth Decay” by Ramiel Nagel. And she also went on to say that her child, now 3, has zero cavities and perfectly healthy teeth. Well, I immediately grew elated!
I purchased the book, which is entirely based upon Dr. Weston Price’s research, and cancelled the dental procedures. When I spoke with Dr. Meredith to cancel and explain, she had never even heard of Dr. Weston Price. She knew I was a vegan, and was surprised that I would even consider such a drastic dietary change. She was respectful but doubtful, and mostly concerned that I made sure to keep a very close eye on the progression of decay, as Claire’s decay had proven to be so rapid in the past. Because we caught the decay earlier this time around, I was hoping I had more time on my side.
We also agreed that I would offer Claire daily sips of ice water, to gauge any discomfort. I told Dr. Meredith that I was going to commit to this for 8 weeks, and if there was no improvement, or if the decay was still progressing, or if Claire ever showed signs of pain, then I would do the procedure knowing I had done everything I could think of. She kindly supported me, but I think she was expecting to see me in a few weeks once I realized it wasn’t working. I had to make the same deal with my husband.
Can you tell us more about Dr. Weston Price and his protocol for healing cavities?
Dr. Weston Price was a dentist based in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1930s. He was the Chairman of Research of the National Dentist Association, which today we know as the American Dental Association. A good bio link for him is at http://soilandhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/02/0203CAT/020305ppnf/price.html
The protocol that I began following was one written clearly in “Cure Tooth Decay.” It focuses on plentiful RAW dairy products, fermented foods, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, rich meaty soups made from nutrient-rich bone broths, and…. organ meats. Essentially the polar opposite of what not only my ethics were comfortable eating, but also my stomach.
“Price’s conclusions and recommendations were shocking for his time. He advocated a return to breast feeding when such a practice was discouraged by Western medicine. He urged parents to give their childrencod liver oil every day. He considered fresh butter to be the supreme health food. He warned againstpesticides, herbicides, preservatives, artificial colorings, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, in short, all the things that modern nutrition and agriculture have embraced and promoted the last few decades. Price believed that margarine was a demonic creation. Let me tell you, with recommendations like these, he was REALLY unpopular! But the result of his research speaks for itself!” -soilandhealth.org
What was your diet and lifestyle like before the cavity?
Ugh. The chronic thorn in my side!
Backing up, I had been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for upwards of 15 years when I became pregnant. It was about 3-4 months into my pregnancy, however, that I discovered I couldn’t tolerate any dairy products without almost immediate stomach pain and diarrhea. At the doctor’s suggestion, I tried taking over the counter Lactaid, and with that I was able to have dairy products. I soon found myself popping those Lactaid pills freely and frequently. Just one week after beginning the Lactaid supplements, I was woken from sleep with such a tearing, stabbing sensation in my right upper abdomen that I was concerned for my now almost 5-month along pregnancy.
Without much exam, I went for a gallbladder ultrasound, which had normal findings. I remember during the ultrasound thinking to myself “well, if that’s where they’re scanning, that’s not where it hurts.”
I had a blood draw, which showed elevated liver enzymes. With no other ideas, I figured that the only thing that I had recently changed was the Lactaid being added to my diet, and so I stopped taking it. Within a couple of days, my pain was lessening. When I went for a repeat liver panel, my enzymes were lowering. Just out of curiosity, I started taking the Lactaid again, and within 3 days was doubled over in pain in my upper right abdomen again. I stopped the Lactaid completely after that…and never had the pain again.
And so the rest of my pregnancy was entirely dairy free, in addition to being vegetarian.
When Claire was born, I ate a lot of Morningstar Farms or Boca Burger veggie burgers. Since my dairy intolerance seemed to be directly related to my pregnancy, I was able to consume it no problem. However, within just shy of a month, it was apparent that Claire was having extremely painful stomach issues when I consumed soy, and/or dairy and so I cut both out entirely. I realized that me consuming soy made her scream in pain, and me consuming dairy resulted in her almost immediately projectile vomiting upon nursing. My husband and I made the comment that it was like her little body was doing all it could to get my breastmilk out of her stomach if it had even the slightest traces of soy or dairy in it.
And so, my diet went to eating lots of avocado on toast, tomato on toast, pasta with marinara sauce, rice and beans, veggie stir fries. Very carb-heavy and lots of processed items. We’re talking tons of homemade daily baked bread.
Because really, what else was there? Plain salads weren’t appealing. Plain veggies weren’t appealing. Soy and dairy seem to be in darn near everything from hummus to dressing to mayo…
And as a new mom with a husband away working all the time, my efforts were not going toward a whole lot of effort in the kitchen. I needed convenience. I joined a soy-free/dairy-free/gluten-free group on Facebook. More than once it was suggested to me that if a child is soy and dairy allergic, to also be thinking about gluten allergy. Figuring that I ate so much gluten that surely I would know if Claire was actually allergic to it, I scoffed at the idea and ignored it.
It was after one particularly fresh baked bread – heavy week, however, that Claire’s usual little, benign, chronic skin bumps went full-body. She had always (always) had very small red bumps on her chest or back, but because they never bothered her, I had simply chalked it up to teething one week, or using soap, or heat, or… but when suddenly I realized these bumps were on her calves, thighs, forearms, upper arms… I wondered if gluten actually was an issue.
And so, when Claire was 17 months old, and still 95% breast fed, I committed to an entire month of zero gluten. So at that point we’re soy free, dairy free, gluten free vegetarians. Oh, and I don’t like eggs so you may as well add egg-free to that. My diet was limited to Udi’s gluten free bread (LOTS) for tomato and avocado sandwiches, corn noodles with marinara sauce, and potatoes with Earth Balance butter substitute. Not exactly a well-rounded diet, and my options were getting more and more sparse.
Two weeks after ridding gluten entirely, Claire’s rash cleared up… the rash she had for 17 months was gone. It reappeared after the gluten-free month when I ate half a loaf of homemade bread, as an experiment. Yep, sure enough, within 14 hours it was back with a vengeance. Neither of us has had gluten since then, and the rash has never reappeared.
What’s amazing, though, is that I even felt shockingly different when I went gluten free.
The pain in my feet and knees that would almost send me to my knees upon waking up in the morning? Gone.
My chronic dull headaches and eye strain? Gone.
My flubbery belly? Well… Noticeably less so.
My cloudy “new mommy brain” that was still frighteningly there? Gone.
My old brain was back and sharp as ever! I didn’t hobble when I got up from sitting! I didn’t have the kind of headache that only comes from withdrawal!
My answer was clear: Gluten wasn’t good for EITHER of us.
…ALL of this started coming together, however, when one day someone said they had heard that celiac (which my cousin has, and obviously Claire and myself have, if not a gluten sensitivity at the very least) and infant/childhood tooth decay have a correlation.
That was when the lightbulb really went off for me.
I had never considered the health of my exclusively breastfed infant to be dependent on what I ate.
I had never considered nutrition to be so powerful as to cause perfectly healthy teeth to crumble away.
Meaning I never imagined that breastmilk could be anything LESS than perfect. Never had my nutrition ever been a concern to be discussed anywhere along the way. I’d never heard at any time in my life that breast milk is only as good as the mom makes it. I figured, naively, that I could eat garbage, and yet somehow, out would still come this liquid gold. Unfortunately, my ignorance resulted in supplying Claire with severely lacking breastmilk. One thing that many may pass over is why I decided to go on the protocol myself; and that is to ensure that the breast milk that is Claire’s essentially sole source of nutrition is as nutrient-dense and nourishing as it can be. As a breastfeeding mother, it’s entirely my responsibility to provide the best possible food for my child.
As I learned more about the correlation of celiac disease to infant tooth decay, it made complete sense to me… her body isn’t getting all of the nutrients that it needs. But I still had been blaming it solely on the celiac label. It took being sleeplessly anxiety ridden over Claire needing multiple more dental procedures under general anesthesia to really start digging into the nutrition that I was providing her, which is what had led to me discover the Weston Price Protocol.
What were some of the biggest changes you had to make? What are some things you added in, and some things you took out?
Immediately, the biggest change was on my end was from an ethically-based vegetarian standpoint. Never had anything trumped my firm priorities of animal welfare and compassionate eating. I needed to begin viewing food as medicine, something I had never done before. I also began diving in to learning where my food would be coming from. It was important to me to know how these animals lived, what they ate, and most importantly to my conscience: how they died. I began calling farms and interviewing farmers, taking several aback as I asked for detailed information in their slaughter practices. I needed to know that what I was doing was going to continue in the most compassionate and respectful way possible.
The biggest change on Claire’s end made me wary… dairy. Remember, this child had severe reactions even if I was the one who directly consumed it, and she only received it through breast milk.
I started by asking the people at our local organic farm-to-table store for recommendations for organic grass-fed dairy. I also began asking farmers who had stands at the farmers markets. One thing that I need to point out is that raw dairy IS NOT ILLEGAL in Wisconsin… so there is no need to be “hush hush” about it in your search to find it. Many farmers will gladly sell raw milk if you ask… the law in WI is that the buyer needs to GO TO the farm to make the purchase. This is a fantastic opportunity for the buyer to see the farm, meet the cows, see how they live and are raised! I now have two wonderful sources of organic grass fed raw milk. One from Holsteins (a1 milk protein), and one from Jerseys (a2 protein).
When I got my first jar of raw milk, even I was hesitant to try it. You hear all the controversy and warnings about it, and that combined with Claire’s allergy made me very unsure. But when I poured the first glass, and Claire wanted to try some, she guzzled an entire 6 ounces and was asking for more! She never got sick.
To this day she refuses pasteurized dairy. She will not eat anything cooked in pasteurized butter, and won’t eat homemade yogurt if the milk is heated to pasteurization… but she will eat raw butter with a spoon, devour raw yogurt, and drink raw milk happily! This made me start paying attention to what it means to eat foods in their natural state.
I also began making my own fermented foods, such as milk kefir (a new favorite), yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, and other veggies. I was super intimidated to start, but soon discovered that the learning curve isn’t steep, and soon felt like I’d been doing it for years. I really recommend others give fermenting a try!
Claire is also getting lots of good fats and nutrients by eating homemade chicken and beef bone broths with plenty of dark leafy greens, root veggies, cabbage, sweet potatoes, mushrooms. I add raw cream and raw butter to many of the soups after cooking to avoid heating it to pasteurization temperature. I sometimes add beef gelatin for extra nutrition. Claire LOVES her soups, and it’s a great way to stretch the weekly food budgets, get hearty nutrition, and get her to try new flavors. It is recommended once teeth are fully healed to then begin introducing sprouted grains and sprouted sourdough breads.
PS: in case people are concerned about weight gain on this protocol (it’s high fat)… as a person who has an obese woman living inside of her just screaming to get out, I have actually lost 10 pounds, am never hungry (have to consciously make myself eat), and haven’t had a single craving for carbs. None.
Did you add supplements?
butter oil. However, when the fermented cod liver oil was called into question see: http://www.modernalternativemama.com/2015/08/24/is-fermented-cod-liver-oil-the-real-deal-or-a-sick-hoax/), I chose to switch to Nordic Naturals cod liver oil and Green Pastures high vitamin butter oil instead. I take 6-8 capsules of each daily, to add up to the recommended 1 1/2 teaspoons.
I began making my own calcium powder from the shells of all the organic, pastured, farm-fresh eggs we were eating. (The hens are a lovely bunch of ladies, and we enjoy visiting them and their turkey roost-mate often.) I aim for a teaspoon daily of this fantastically bio-available calcium. I also take organic seaweed for iodine, vitamin a and calcium… and recently I’ve begun encapsulating organic rose hips for vitamin C. Claire now takes a Cell Salt supplement.
How long did it take for you to see improvement, and how far into the protocol are you?
I began seeing improvement in 2 weeks. The most easily viewed cavity that she has is located on the front of her top central incisor, just below the gum line. In two weeks I saw it become lighter in color, and less deep of a hole. Her teeth also were noticeably more opaque, not as translucent, and not as blue-hued from demineralization. I didn’t know if I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but It was promising, nonetheless.
We are now 8 weeks into the protocol. Claire’s teeth only keep improving. As damage has already been done to her teeth, we are not expecting the evidence of previous cavities to disappear entirely when they heal. Instead, where cavities are spongey, vulnerable, discolored pits missing enamel… her cavities will become (AND ARE) harder, lighter in color, and grow strong with remineralization. Becoming just as healthy as the surrounding tooth, now being healed with the regrowth of enamel, her teeth that were visually unhealthy are becoming dense & shiny white.
What was your dentist’s reaction to Claire’s results?
4 weeks into the protocol Claire’s teeth were examined by her dentist. Dr. Meredith took a good, long time examining her
teeth. Much longer than she ever had… to the point that I was beginning to wonder what she was doing….
Until she sat back, looked at me with a grin, and said- “IT’S WORKING!” She was amazed, and excited!
Not only is she now eager to see how much more improvement we will see, but she’s gone from simply respecting my decision to forgo any dental procedures in exchange for dietary changes, to now ENCOURAGING my decision, and is excited to be able to share this option with other parents!
Any advice for parents out there?
The two colossal lessons that I’ve learned, and want nothing less than to scream it from the mountain tops are:
- Food has the ability to give or take away health.Food can do what modern medicine cannot. What may be marketed as healthy may not actually be healthful. Even “good” foods, such as whole grains, can be damaging if a strong nutritional foundation isn’t built. At the end of the day, our bodies don’t care what our food “preferences” are. It still has its food REQUIREMENTS that cannot be compromised without dire consequences.
- This bit may come from my view as a mom trying to heal her child, but resonates to everybody: Listen to your gut.If
the world of experts is saying something must be done, but it just doesn’t feel right to you, give your instincts a voice. Do the work to find alternative options, and never discount your ability to heal yourself.
There is no way to know if Claire’s dental condition was due completely because of her diet, or also genetics. Today, I can no longer say that the two aren’t markedly reliant upon one another, so I’m not concerned about the question because the answer remains the same. We have control over the food and lifestyle choices that we make… which means that we get daily opportunities to aid or hinder any predispositions to disease. Some will dismiss the healing ability of food and nutrition, as I once did, giving excessive power to the label of “genetics.” But, I hope minds remain open to the possibilities! Claire’s teeth are simply an outward display of her health… can you imagine the healing that’s going on in the rest of her little growing body? I’ve learned that the opportunity to regain control over health, regardless of what’s to blame, is in my hands. I hope my story motivates others to take back some control of their own.
And lastly, would you mind sharing a favorite recipe?
Believe it or not, it’s now so hard for me to narrow my favorite recipes down to just one! I’ve come to appreciate food in a whole new light that I now see how much healing can come from something as simple as a milkshake! So below is my favorite recipe: my morning tooth healing milkshake. Rich in minerals, fats, and yumminess, I have this almost every morning, and sometimes as a night time dessert.
Thank you so much, Ashley for sharing your story. It’s inspiring and refreshing!
- 1 cup raw organic milk
- 1/4-1/2 cup raw organic cream
- 1 raw organic egg
- 1/2 tsp calcium powder (from those ground up egg shells!)
- 1 tbsp raw cocao powder (rich in iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc!)
- 1 tbsp raw honey
- A splash of real vanilla extract
Zip together in a blender… and enjoy! The reason I love THIS recipe so much is because it’s so easy to change it up by replacing the cocoa powder for any of the following:
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp nutmeg = eggnog smoothie!
- A few fresh or frozen strawberries = strawberry milkshake!
- …or simply omit the cocoa and leave it as a delicious vanilla milkshake.
Megan Normansell (Kerkhoff), CHC, AADP, CFH
Certified Holistic Practitioner/Holistic Nutrition/Herbalist/Wild Edibles Guide
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