Nutrition for the mouth is often an overlooked aspect to health and nutritional balance.
Periodontal disease is second only to the common cold as the most prevalent infection ailment in the United States. It affects nearly 75 percent of Americans over the age of thirty-five and is a major cause of assault tooth loss and decay.
Many dental problems result from an acidic environment (see Acid/Base Balance) created when bacteria feed on food remnants in the teeth. These bacteria, along with acid, refined (sugar) carbohydrates, and bacterial waste forms a sticky plaque that adheres to teeth and tongue and holds the acid close to the tooth where it eats away at the enamel.
Periodontal–or gum–disease takes two forms. Nearly half of the U.S. population has simple gum inflammation with bacteria present, also called gingivitis. This is usually caused by an unhealthy oral environment from poor brushing and flossing habits. Emotional stress may exacerbate gingivitis. A more severe infection, called periodontitis, can lead to tooth loss. Periodontitis destroys both the connective tissue attached to the teeth and the bone itself. Such bone loss may be an early sign of osteoporosis.
Many problems in the mouth often reflect nutritional deficiencies or underlying medical disorders in the body. Bleeding gums, for example, may signal a low level of vitamin C. Cracking and dryness around the mouth may indicate a low level of riboflavin (vitamin B2). Gum disease may indicate low Coenzyme Q levels. Regular dental checkups can help detect early conditions, while rational nutrition can eliminate the cause of nearly all periodontal problems. Obviously, it is critically important to brush and floss your teeth often.
Nutrition plays a key role in determining the body’s response (immune function) as well as the periodontal ligaments. Bacteria thrive on sugar but are less likely to cause a problem if sugary foods are followed by less-sweet foods. Some other dietary recommendations include:
- Decrease the consumption of refined sugar. Sugar is acidic and will cause an increase in periodontal disease over time. Sugar causes plaque buildup, and can inhibit the development of white blood cells to help fight infection. Other acid-producing foods include alcohol, soft drinks, red meat, caffeine, tobacco, and white flour.
- Minimize intake of tannins that are incorporated in tea and chocolate which can decrease the solubility of enamel.
- Eat a variety of high fiber foods including fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains to provide the teeth and gums with good nutrition.
- Despite some acidity, citrus fruits reduce cavities by stimulating saliva, which also helps build enamel. Cranberries may have protective properties that help thwart tooth decay and cavities.
- Nutritional supplements are essential today because of poor nutrition, excessive refined carbohydrate intake, and the decreased purity of our food supply.
The rate of periodontal disease increases directly with age. Poor dental hygiene is the biggest factor; lack of proper and frequent brushing and flossing. (See a dental hygienist to remove plaque.) Clean the mouth and the tongue using inter-dental brushes, floss and/or water irrigators. Using adequate dental products (like rinses and plaque removers) may also help to fight oral bacteria.
Smoking is a major factor in irritating the gums and mouth. Tobacco has also been linked to mouth cancer.
Certain illnesses such as diabetes and blood disorders create an environment that is at higher risk for gum and periodontal diseases.
The overuse of antibiotics used for ear infections (amoxicillin) in children and infants may be associated with damage to permanent teeth. A study tracking 579 children from birth to 10 years old, found that regular use of the antibiotic seemed related to fluorosis, a disorder that damages tooth enamel.
- VITAMIN C (with BIOFLAVONOIDS)
Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant vitamin that is critical for good oral health. Vitamin C supplementation (a vital component of collagen, the connective tissue found in teeth and bones) retards the growth of bacteria and plaque, and also promotes healing of gum diseases, decreases bleeding and reduces the risk of infection. Bioflavonoids such as QUERCETIN demonstrate anti-inflammatory properties. Dosage: Vitamin C: 1,000-8,000 mg daily in divided doses. Quercetin: 250-1,000 mg daily. NOTE: Too much vitamin C will cause loose stools and diarrhea.
- VITAMIN A (with CAROTENOIDS)
Another antioxidant vitamin that can aid in reducing abnormal oral mucosa and gum inflammation, impaired taste, and yeast infection in the mouth (called thrush). Doses can range between 5,000-25,000 IU daily.
- COENZYME Q10
A potent antioxidant that is effective in preventing various forms of periodontal diseases. CoEnzyme Q10 also promotes energy needed for gum cell growth and healing of the gum tissues. Gingival biopsies yield subnormal tissue levels of CoQ10, in patients with periodontal disease. CoQ10 also speed healing after periodontal surgery. Dosage: 60-120 mg daily.
This mineral has antioxidant activity and thus enhances immune function and promotes healing. Zinc supplementation may be effective in treating problems such as loss of taste, loss of tongue sensation, dry mouth, and thickening of abnormal mucosa. Dosage: 30-45 mg a day.
- CALCIUM, PHOSPHORUS, VITAMIN D and MAGNESIUM
These nutrients (which work in synergy with each other) are easily absorbed by the body to rebuild bone, improve bone fragility, premature tooth loss and inflamed gum disease. Vitamin D supplementation may reduce susceptibility to gingival inflammation due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Dosage: As directed on label.
- VITAMIN E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin needed for healing gum tissue and decreasing the risk of free-radical destruction of tissues and cells. Dosage: 100-400 IU daily.
- FOLIC ACID
Folic acid supplementation can increase the resistance of the gingival and lead to a reduction in inflammation. Dosage: A mouthwash containing 5 mg of folate per 5 ml of mouthwash used twice daily for 4 weeks, appears to be an effective manner of application.
- B-COMPLEX VITAMINS
All the B vitamins help to regenerate healthy cells that can counteract nutrient deficiencies such as mouth sores, pain, burning, dry mouth, numbness, bad breath, smooth tongue, redness and swelling. Dosage: 50-100 mg daily.
- METHYLSULFONYL-METHANE (MSM)
This sulfur-based supplement is an excellent anti-inflammatory, reduces pain, and has a remarkable therapeutic property. Dosage: 500-4,000 mg daily, based on need.
- GRAPE SEED EXTRACT
This powerful antioxidant also has a potent anti-inflammatory affect that can help decrease inflammatory periodontal problems, such as gum disease. Dosage: 50-200 mg daily.
- PANCREATIC ENZYMES
These enzymes are effective in reducing inflammation and aiding in poor digestion associated with certain periodontal diseases. Dosage: Take 1 or 2 tablets between meals, or as directed
Goldenseal contains the antibiotic berberine that prevents growth of pathogenic oral microbes in test tubes. Goldenseal also destroys bacteria that causes periodontal disease. Dosage: Up to 3,000 mg daily. Other herbs such as ECHINACEA, HAWTHORN, GREEN TEA and SAGE can keep down inflammation and infection.
- TEA TREE OIL
This antiseptic oil is often used in natural toothpastes and mouth rinses to kill bacteria. One can rub the gums with tea tree oil to help prevent gum disease. Dosage: As directed, do not swallow.
- CHAMOMILE TEA
Drinking chamomile tea can sooth irritated gums and may help prevent gum disease. Dosage: Drink 1-3 cups daily.
An herb that has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the swelling of gums and may prevent gum disease. Dosage: Use a few drops of sage oil in a mouthwash or gargle, or may take as a tea.
Alternative Medicine Review Monographs- Volume One. Thorne Research, Inc. Dover, ID. 2002.
Bach, PA, Balch, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd edition. Penguin Putman Inc., New York. 2000.
Cranberries May Benefit Teeth. Pharmacy Times, January 2006. 72(1): 56
Dietrich, T, Nunn, M. Association Between Serum Concentrations of Vitamin D and Gingival Inflammation. Alternative Medicine Review, December 2005. 10(4): P. 348.
Ear Antibiotics May Harm Teeth. Pharmacy Times, January 2006. 72(1): 56.
Roberts, AJ, O’Brien, ME, Subak-Sharp, G. Nutraceuticals- The Complete Encyclopedia. Perigee Books. New York, NY. 2001.
Sterling, M. Oral Health. Nutrition Science News. Dec. 1999. 4(12): 552-556.