Fighting Gum Disease with Food

We’ve long known that periodontal (gum) disease is a major problem here in the US, but now a study just published in the Journal of Dental Research puts it into numbers.

And they’re not pretty.

One of every two adults over 30 has some form of gum disease.

Among seniors, it’s about 7 in 10.

Rates are highest for Mexican-Americans, current smokers, those living below the federal poverty line and those with less than a high school education. And more men are affected by it than women (56.4% vs. 38.4%).

According to Dr. Bicuspid’s summary, this data came from the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which for the first time included a full mouth perio exam. Before, only partial mouth exams were done. But “because periodontal disease is not evenly distributed in the mouth, prevalence estimates from surveys…may have underestimated the severity of the disease.”

Consequently, the new findings are considered the most accurate to date.

Of course, one of the things that makes such numbers so troubling is that gum disease, like tooth decay, is almost entirely preventable. Good oral hygiene, of course, is part of it. So is good nutrition. Not only can it help lower your risk; it can help manage or reverse the course of perio disease if it does occur.

Because it inovlves inflammation – a major factor in its link with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions – a good, broad and basic approach to getting the best of perio problems can be an anti-inflammatory diet such as this one from Dr. Weil.

And there are specific nutrients that offer great help, as well.

For instance, one study published about a year ago in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology confirmed the significant impact of vitamin D, calcium and antioxidants on gum health. Reviewing “the evidence for nutritional exposures in the etiology and therapeutic management of periodontitis” – that is, the cause and treatment of advanced gum disease – the authors concluded that

For prevention and treatment of periodontitis daily nutrition should include sufficient antioxidants, vitamin D, and calcium. Inadequate antioxidant levels may be managed by higher intake of vegetables, berries, and fruits (e.g. kiwi fruit), or by phytonutrient supplementation.

But while supplementation can help, whole, natural foods should be your first and best source of all essential nutrients (along with, in the case of Vitamin D, sunshine). Here are a couple of references to help you make your “perio happy” shopping list:

Image by Dr Parveen Chopra, via Flickr

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3 Comments

Filed under Diet & Nutrition, Periodontal health

3 responses to “Fighting Gum Disease with Food

  1. Lynn Wright

    I can’t believe Dr. Weil has canola oil, grains and modern soy foods on his food pyramid. Wouldn’t eat those, ever.

    • Understandable. And thank you for drawing attention to those limitations of his recommendations. In fairness to him, though, he does at least specify that the oil be organic and the grains be whole (“intact or in a few large pieces”), not ground into flour. Organic, non-GMO, of course, would be even better – especially with soy (though it can sometimes be hard to track down, with GMOs so dominating the supply). He probably could have (should have?) been a little more obvious about those qualifications.

      That said, even in their best, most healthful forms, all three should still only be used in a very limited way by those who do choose to include them in their diet.

  2. Stacy

    I have been on a plant-based diet for 2 months now and though I have advanced gum disease in my back teeth (they measure 10) I have no bad breath and virtually no body odor since starting this eating plan. I’m hoping by eliminating all animal products from my diet it will help reverse the disease without surgery.