I've written a few times before about how gum health affects your risk for disease, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and pancreatic cancer -- but, though it seems logical, this is the first time I've seen research that takes it the other way. A new study shows that a healthy diet -- fundamental to fighting all disease -- can also be an effective tool for reducing the inflammation associated with periodontal disease.
About three-quarters of Americans are afflicted with the red, puffy, bleeding gums that characterize periodontal disease. Severe cases are conventionally treated by dentists with antibiotics and, if that fails, surgical reshaping of the affected tissue.
The new study comes from the University of Leipzig. The researchers studied women with metabolic syndrome (a combination of factors that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease) and chronic mild to moderate periodontitis. Their gums were assessed periodically for 12 months for bacteria or inflammation, and by gauging the depth of the periodontal pocket between the tooth and supporting tissue, which increases as periodontal disease progresses. The study participants ate a diet that emphasized vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products, a change from their previous diet that included more animal fats. At the end of the study, the patients showed a significant reduction in gum inflammation and pocket depth.
"The only possible explanation for the reduction in gum inflammation was the changed diet, because other factors, such as oral hygiene, remained the same," says the study's lead author, Axel Jenzsch, DMD. "Since a diet that emphasizes plant foods offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease, it's plausible that diet may also affect the onset and progression of periodontal disease."
Victor Zeines, DDS, who practices in Shokan, New York, and New York City, says a proper diet will help fight gum disease for everyone, not just those with metabolic syndrome. "You need to address the underlying cause of gum disease, which is inflammation, commonly caused by improper nutrition," he says, noting that gum disease is a warning sign that the body is in trouble.
"A wholesome diet is important, not only for the maintenance of system health, but also for periodontal health," says Dr. Jenzsch. "The role of diet in common chronic inflammatory diseases should be better respected by medical practitioners and dentists."
Victor Zeines, DDS, a practicing dentist in Shokan, New York, and New York City (www.natdent.com).