Nutritional Solutions to Help You Fight Gum DiseaseNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
The CDC reports that nearly half of adults in the United States, over the age of 30, have periodontal disease. That number swells to 70 percent for adults 65 and older. In those affected, bacteria triggers inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth, which can lead to loss of teeth in advanced stages of periodontitis.
The word "periodontitis" means "inflammation around the tooth." Inflammation occurs when your immune system reacts to the multiplying of microorganisms, such as bacteria, on the surface of the tooth and in the pockets surrounding the teeth.
Comedian and actress, Whoppi Goldberg is one of the first celebrities to speak out about this sometimes embarrassing disease and the importance of better oral hygiene. After undergoing emergency gum surgery, Goldberg publicly acknowledged her struggle with periodontal (gum) disease on her daytime talk show, The View. Much to the praise of dentists across the country, she admitted that she neglected her oral health and this neglect led to the development of advanced gum disease. She also informed her audience that she will likely lose her teeth because the infection got so bad that it was eroding her jawbone.
Getting to the Root of Gum Disease
A new study conducted on mice and humans, by the scientists at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), suggest that an unhealthy population of microbes and bacteria in the mouth triggers specialized immune cells that inflame and aim to destroy gum tissue, which leads to an increased bone loss associated with severe forms of gum disease like periodontitis.
These findings may lead to new treatment options for gum disease. "We've known for years that microbes stimulate inflammation. Removing bacteria by tooth-brushing and dental care controls inflammation, but not permanently, suggesting there are other factors at play," said study senior author Niki Moutsopoulos, D.D.S., Ph.D., a clinical investigator at NIDCR. "Our results suggest that immune cells known as T helper (Th) 17 cells are drivers of this process, providing the link between oral bacteria and inflammation."
Researchers found that Th17 cells were much more prevalent in the gum tissue of humans with periodontitis than in the gums of their healthy counterparts. They also managed to prove that the amount of Th17 cells correlated with the severity of the gum disease. The scientists found that similar to humans, more Th17 cells accumulated in the gums of mice with periodontitis compared to healthy mice, which served as a control group.
Their findings suggest Th17 cells may protect against oral thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth. But Th17 cells are also linked to inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and colitis, suggesting that they both play key roles in health and disease.
"Our clinical observations point to the relevance of our animal studies to humans and provide further evidence that Th17 cells are drivers of periodontitis," said NIDCR researcher Nicolas Dutzan, Ph.D., first author of the paper.
"These results provide key insights into the mechanisms that underlie development of periodontal disease," said NIDCR Director Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D. "Importantly, they also offer compelling evidence for therapeutic targeting of specific cells, which might eventually help us provide better treatment and more relief to patients with this common disease."
Health Risks Associated With Advanced Gum Disease
More and more researchers, scientists and dentists are coming forward to alert people to the connection between gum disease and a wide variety of other life-threatening diseases. It may be that better oral hygiene can result in better overall health.
- Cancer. According to Epidemiologic Reviews, “Existing data provides support for a positive association between periodontal disease and risk of oral, lung, and pancreatic cancers; however, additional prospective studies are needed to better inform on the strength of these associations and to determine whether other cancers are associated with periodontal disease.” In a separate study from the University of Helsinki and published in the British Journal of Cancer showing that Treponema denticola, which is the bacterium that causes periodontitis, may also be responsible for the development of some types of cancer.
- Heart Disease. In this particular scenario it is the immune system’s response that is of concern. The inflammation caused due to the presence of an overabundance of bacteria triggers your body’s immune response and it sets off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, with the heart and brain being the main targets. Harvard Health offers this, “Study after study has shown that people who have poor oral health (such as gum disease or tooth loss) have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke than people with good oral health.”
- Diabetes. This is a bit of a catch 22, where both diabetes and periodontal disease are causes of the other. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports, “Emerging research also suggests that the relationship between serious gum disease and diabetes is two-way. Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but serious gum disease may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. Research suggests that people with diabetes are at higher risk for oral health problems, such as gingivitis (an early stage of gum disease) and periodontitis (serious gum disease). People with diabetes are at an increased risk for serious gum disease because they are generally more susceptible to bacterial infection, and have a decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade the gums.”
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. Periodontal disease is prevalent among rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers, and the disease is said to trigger an autoimmune response in RA patients. It is suggested that both periodontal disease and RA have similar underlying pathogenic precursors. Individuals with RA have an increased likelihood of continued tooth loss, which is also a consequence of periodontal disease.
Nutritional Alternatives for Gum Disease
There is evidence that an insufficient intake of vitamin A, B1, C and E, iron, folate and phosphorous significantly exacerbates periodontal disease in adults age 30 and older. It is recommended that you identify foods which contain these nutrients in order to increase the intake of the above micronutrients to reduce the proliferation of gum disease.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and vitamin C. Some studies suggest that lycopene is a promising treatment for full mouth gum therapy in patients with moderate periodontal disease. Note that while tomatoes are excellent for both your oral and overall health, they are also very acidic. Be sure that you are brushing regularly, or that you rinse with some water, to rid your mouth of acidic juices from foods.
- Oil Pulling with natural oils. Oil pulling is an ancient technique has been used for centuries to keep the teeth and gums healthy. It uses oil to cleanse infected areas and help the gums heal. Take a tablespoon of sesame, coconut, or sunflower oil and swish it around your mouth for a couple minutes, focusing on the infected gum. Spit out, do not swallow, and rinse immediately with warm water. The National Library of Medicine (NCBI) concludes that, “Oil pulling is observed to bring improvement in oral hygiene when practiced correctly and regularly. Limited available research on effect of oil pulling on oral hygiene shows promising benefits of oil pulling procedure on oral cavity. However oil pulling does not replace dental therapy and is currently not recommended by American Dental Association (ADA).”
- Green leafy vegetables. Load up on leafy greens like spinach, arugula, kale, and collards to help combat gum inflammation. These vegetables are packed with vitamins A, C, and K and folate. As well as minerals like iron and calcium which are excellent for your chompers. They also require a fair amount of chewing to break down, which creates more saliva. Saliva produced from chewing helps neutralize mouth bacteria. Celery also offers this benefit.
- Fatty fish. Stock up on oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. These aquatic superheroes are rife with omega-3 fatty acids. “A diet low in carbohydrates, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, rich in vitamins C and D, and rich in fibers can significantly reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation.”, assert the NCBI.
- Blueberries. Adding fruits like blueberries and cherries to your diet can help curb gum inflammation as well. Blueberries are loaded with helpful vitamins and minerals including copper, beta-carotene, folate, choline, vitamins A and E, and manganese. A new study conducted at Université Laval in Canada suggested found that an extract from blueberry bushes may be as effective in the treatment of gum disease as antibiotics.
Before starting to alter your diet for improved gum health, you may want to consider getting a nutrient test to make sure your body is receiving and absorbing the nutrients it needs to keep your gums in their healthiest state. The fact that you are eating healthily doesn’t necessarily mean that your body is getting the right amount of nutrients.
While a nutritional approach to improved oral health is always a beneficial habit to exercise, it is also highly recommended that you consult a competent dentist for routine checkups. It is also important to advocate for healthy oral hygiene regimes in both yourself and your family members. Being proactive is your first line of defense to avoiding further health complications.
Finally, using a periobiotic toothpaste can lead to better gum health. It is a specialized toothpaste, which reportedly has a probiotic that competes with the unhealthy strains of oral bacteria and helps maintain healthy gums.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.