man looking in mirrorIf you’ve got gum disease – and most American adults do to one degree or another – dealing with it isn’t just a matter of brushing and flossing more.

Other factors contribute to the problem, too. While smoking is the number one risk factor, others identified by science include lack of sleep, chronic stress, bruxing (clenching or grinding, often during sleep), and, of course, diet.

And diet means a lot more than just avoiding sugars and foods made with refined grains and starches. It’s also about getting the nutrients your body needs to sustain healthy tissues.

A good reminder of this is a study published earlier this year in the Australian Dental Journal.

For it, researchers analyzed three years of data from NHANES, the ongoing study of health and nutrition in US populations. Specifically, they focused on data from adults age 30 or more who had received complete periodontal exams.

The authors found that not getting enough vitamins A, B1, C, and E, along with iron, folate, and phosphorous “was significantly associated with severity of periodontal disease.”

Results of the present study suggest that the above micronutrients may be increased in the diet or taken as dietary supplements in order to reduce severity of periodontal disease.

While supplements can be helpful, we recommend getting your nutrients through real, minimally processed food to get the total nutritional package. This typically means eating more fresh produce – mostly veg, some fruit – as well as legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), nuts, and some fish.

Let these foods take the place of refined carbs and you may find that those carbs start to lose some of their appeal.

Interestingly, some research suggests that dietary changes alone may be enough to reduce the inflammation that’s the hallmark of gum disease.

One study, published last year in BMC Oral Health, compared the periodontal effects of a low carb diet that was also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D, antioxidants, and fiber. Members of the experimental group followed this diet for 4 weeks while members of a control group ate as usual. All participants were given periodontal exams before and after the intervention period.

The authors found that those who ate the low carb diet had significant decreases in all inflammatory markers they measured – about half of what they were at the beginning of the study. The authors thus concluded that

The results of this pilot study showed that an oral health optimized diet can significantly reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in a clinically important range without any changes in oral hygiene performance.

This isn’t to say that hygiene doesn’t matter. It does mean that diet matters, too. A lot.


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