We normally think of toothbrushing as the most important way to prevent gum disease, and that is definitely important.
But a new study in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dentistry now argues that the food we eat is equally important, or even more.
Inflammation plays a major destructive role in gum disease. Your immune system overreacts to the presence of bacteria in your mouth and dispatches a mass of inflammatory immune cells to go destroy them.
The problem is that these inflammatory chemicals destroy our gums and teeth too.
The authors of this study argue that nutrients can regulate pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cascades, and that we should therefore know which ones to eat and which to avoid.
Let’s look at the conclusions they draw from their review of the scientific literature.
Foods to enjoy:
1. Carbohydrates are important energy sources, but they should be enjoyed in the form of low-glycemic, unprocessed, complex, fibrous carbohydrates like those in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
2. Plant proteins are probably healthier than animal proteins, as one study has found that vegetarians have less pocket depth, less bleeding, and better oral hygiene than non-vegetarians.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids (as in fish and flaxseed oil) are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce pocket depth in our gums and promote the solid attachment of our teeth.
4. One large study has found that people with severe gum disease are deficient in vitamin A, so stock up on milk, cheese, and oily fish like salmon. Vitamin A is also abundant in yellow, red, and green fruit and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, spinach, mangoes, and apricots.
5. Vitamin B12 prevents gum disease and is present in any animal foods.
6. Vitamin C reduces gum disease and is found in grapefruits, peppers, kiwis, strawberries, and broccoli.
7. Since Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in gum disease, you must spend enough time in the sun or eat Vitamin D-fortified foods.
8. Vitamin E reduces gum disease, so eat lots of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, salmon, avocado, and green leafy vegetables.
9. Calcium and magnesium deficiencies contribute to gum disease, so a good supply of almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, cashews, spinach, beans, dark chocolate, milk, and cheese should help.
Foods to reduce or avoid:
1. High-glycemic, processed, fermentable carbohydrates—such as those found in refined sugar, white wheat flour, and sugary drinks—are major sources of chronic inflammation. Moreover, acquiring an excessively high proportion of our daily calorie intake from carbohydrates is also proinflammatory.
2. Fruit is healthy, but not in large amounts, since fermentable carbohydrates like those in fruit, sugar, and honey provide too much food for bacteria in your mouth. These sugars have been directly linked to gum disease.
3. While you don’t have to avoid animal proteins like meat, as there is no research that shows that they are bad for your teeth, the study mentioned above probably suggests that you should either cut down on meat or brush your teeth more frequently if you do eat it.
4. Trans fats promote inflammation and should be avoided. Trans fats appear not only in margarine, mayonnaise, oils, and other products you buy in the supermarket, but also when you roast, fry, or bake meat at high temperatures.
5. The amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the industrial vegetable oils we eat is too high because food manufacturers put too much sunflower oil, soybean oil, and other oils in our margarine, potato chips, pie crusts, pizza bases, and lots of ready-made foods we buy. These are pro-inflammatory.
Follow these guidelines to prevent gum disease and to prevent your condition from getting worse if you already have it.