Fatty Fish, Nuts May Prevent Gum Disease

By Dr. Aly Kanani, Certified Orthodontist (Braces) Specialist & Invisalign Provider
Questions: Email Dr. Kanani at draly@guildfordorthodontics.com

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” – Edison

A recent study among a group of seniors in Japan shows that a diet with increased levels of the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA decreases the risk for inflammation and conditions such as periodontal or gum disease. The study was made up of 55 adults who’s ages averaged in the low 70’s.(i) The results showed that those whose diets were higher in Omega-3 fatty acids were as much as 50% less likely to develop periodontal disease conditions. Findings suggest there is a prominent relationship between dietary habits and oral health.

These Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA are most often found in fatty fish but are commonly available in fish oil capsules. Other sources of the polyunsaturated fatty acids are nuts (including walnuts and peanut butter), margarine, canola and olive oils, as well as another non-animal source: microalgae. Omega-3 levels are high in cold-water fish like salmon, herring and mackerel.

The DHA and EPA containing supplements are shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which means they can help prevent conditions such as periodontal disease and other systemic health conditions. (ii)

Periodontal disease is the infection of the gums and bone around teeth, which in advanced stages causes tooth loss. The beginning stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis, which effects nearly 80% of the population. When uncontrolled, gum disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in adults. Gingivitis symptoms include slight irritation and mild bleeding of the gums when brushing and flossing. There may be mild redness right along the edge of the gums along the teeth. Periodontal disease is a more advanced infection that causes deep pockets under the gums. Food packing, bleeding, swelling and red gums are all symptoms of periodontal disease.

Because polyunsaturated fats can benefit inflammatory conditions like gum disease, it also means that DHA and EPA supplements may improve heart and cardiovascular health as well. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of the Omega-3 acids could be used to help prevent and treat other various inflammatory diseases throughout the body.

Traditionally treatment of periodontal disease has most commonly involved therapeutic removal of the infectious bacteria through instrumental scaling of the teeth and underneath the gum pockets in the mouth. The build up deep under the gums is impossible to remove with brushing and flossing. When present, it only continues to multiply and harbor bacteria that further the infection. Once plaque calcifies into tartar, the deposits can only be removed by a dental professional.

Occasionally a prescription medication like an antibiotic will be given to the patient to take orally for a set amount of time to aid in the body’s fight in the infectious bacteria. Locally delivered medications are sometimes placed in areas of advanced periodontal disease. If not corrected, periodontal disease causes gum and bone loss, resulting in the loss of effected teeth. This infection can spread tooth to tooth throughout the mouth. In severe cases gum surgery may need to be performed in order to protect the patient’s chance of retaining their teeth.

Periodontal disease is linked to numerous health conditions like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity and premature births. Because periodontal disease is an active infection, the body’s immune response attacks the plaque-infected area and thereby the connective tissue around the tooth deteriorates. The bacteria can then enter into the bloodstream through the infected pocket and travel throughout the body. These oral bacteria have been linked to cardiovascular attacks and stroke, as it can accumulate within the bloodstream of the infected patient. All the more reason to take charge of your oral health!

Tackling periodontal infections not only benefits your mouth, but can help improve overall systemic health as well. Because these infections seem to walk hand in hand, treating both at the same time seems to be the only way to be able to treat them at all. For instance, dental patients with uncontrolled diabetes usually aren’t able to get a handle on their gum health no matter how well they brush and floss. By managing their diabetes better through diet, exercise, medication and supplements, it will be easier for them to get a handle on their oral health as well.

While dental care professionals including orthodontist specialists have always offered nutritional counseling in conjunction with their oral hygiene instruction, it is becoming evident that our diet effects much more than we usually want to think it does. By utilizing the traditional care methods like therapeutic periodontal treatment, prescription medications, oral hygiene and now more specified nutritional focus, patients and their dentists can broaden the attack against these active diseases.

For people with coronary heart disease, the Canadian and American Heart Associations recommend a consumption of 1,000mg of the Omega-3 fatty acid supplement on a daily basis. For patients who are healthy and are looking for supplements to take for preventative measures, the American Heart Association recommends a dose of only 500mg of DHA + EPA a day. This does works out to about two servings of fish each week. Because this is more fish than what most people usually eat each week, a supplement such as the fish oil pills are an easy way to ensure that you can reach these dosages on a daily basis.

For vegetarian patients who opt to not consume a fish based supplement, they can go straight to the source of where the fish get their intake of the DHA and EPA. This is in an algae form. The microalgae supplement is full of the Omega-3 fatty acid and a great option. Many people also pose dangerous allergies to nuts, which are also rich in the polyunsaturated fatty acid. These people should obviously avoid supplementing their diets with nuts, so they need to know what options are available to supplement their diet with DHA and EPA.

Diets similar to the Mediterranean diets or those of Inuit Eskimos are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These people usually show a healthy level of cholesterols even though consuming large amounts of fatty fish and oils. Snacks that include nuts like walnuts, peanuts, or even tuna and crackers are great options to reach for when you’re looking for something to eat that can help up your Omega-3 fatty acid intake. Keeping a bag of nuts in your bag makes for an easy and healthy afternoon snack while you’re on the run.

Some of the other systemic health conditions that may show improvement with Omega-3 supplementation include:

  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Cancers
  • Behavioral conditions such as ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

While Omega-3 fatty acids can be helpful for certain systemic conditions, there are certain health conditions which may warrant avoiding it’s use. Certain medications like those for diabetes, cholesterol or blood pressure may interact with the supplement. Depending on how certain people process the proteins inside of the DHA and EPA supplements, conditions like diabetes may be more difficult to control blood sugar levels. Like all medications and supplements, it’s important to consult with your pharmacologist and doctor before beginning or changing a treatment regimen. Never discontinue using any of your prescription medications without first consulting your doctor.

A quote from Hippocrates leaves us with, pardon the pun, food for though: “Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.” The more we learn about what we put into our bodies, the more we see how it affects our health in so many ways. If we are only putting bad things into it, our body isn’t going to have what it needs to effectively work the way it was designed to. The mouth can show us so many things, and because it is referred to as the gateway to the rest of the body, it often gives us insight to underlying health conditions. Eating healthy foods promotes our oral health in addition to benefiting the rest of our body.

However, the bottom line is still this: if you don’t brush and floss, the plaque isn’t going to go away on it’s own. Brush twice daily with a soft bristled toothbrush for a minimum of 2 minutes each time. Floss daily by wrapping floss gently against each tooth and sliding it up and down under the gumlines. Remember to use any specific methods advised by your dental care professional depending on your unique dental health needs.  For instance, patients who wear braces also need to use home care appliances that will help them to reach between brackets and wires. Always see your dentist at least every six months for preventative care appointments. If you have active periodontal disease these appointments may need to be more often in order to control the condition.

(i)Iwasaki, Masanori, DDS; Yoshihara, Akihiro, Ph.D., Moynihan, Paula Ph.D.; ReikoWatanabe Ph.D.; Taylor, George W. DMD, DrPH; Miyazaki, Hideo PhD; Consumption of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, DHA and EPA, May Slow Or Prevent Periodontal Disease;Nutrition (2009), doi:10.1016/j.nut.2009.09.101.

(ii) Naqvi, AZ et al.; Higher DHA Intakes Associated With Less Gum Disease; Journal American Dietetic Association, 110:1669-1675, 2010.