By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If your dentist or dental hygienist has told you that you have gum Disease, or that you’re at risk for developing it, you’re not alone. Various studies estimate that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic, ordinary gingivitis.
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and is an early indicator of gum disease. It may be characterized by tender, red and swollen gums.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that half of Americans, age 30 or over, have some form of advanced gum disease, which translates to almost 65 million Americans. And the problem increases as we get older, with more than 70% of adults 65 years and older suffering from some form of disease that affects the area around the teeth – periodontal disease.
So how does gum disease develop?
Just like your intestines, your Mouth is home to different types of bacteria. When all the types of bacteria are in balance, your gums are protected from disease-causing bacteria. However, disturbing the bacteria balance provides an opening for disease-causing bacteria and other microorganisms to invade the gums. This increase in disease-causing bacteria generally causes your body’s immune system, and the white blood cells that get rid of them, to produce substances that not only destroy the bacteria but also damage your gum tissue. (A good technical description about the bacteria population in your mouth can be found in the British Dental Journal).
Activities like smoking, taking certain medications (like antibiotics), poor oral hygiene and poor diet may disturb the balance of bacteria in our mouths and enhance the activity of these disease-causing bacteria that may lead to gum disease.
In addition to causing tooth loss, bad breath and other oral health risks, having unhealthy gums has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, stroke and heart attack; diabetes; Alzheimer’s; rheumatoid arthritis; and certain cancers.
Pregnant women with gum disease may also be at an increased risk for delivering preterm and/or having a low birth weight baby.
So if you’re being diligent with your oral care by not smoking and avoiding sugars, brushing and flossing regularly and your dentist still tells you your gums are not as healthy as they should be, the culprit may be medications you may be taking. For example, certain medications used to treat depression, hypertension, allergies, colds and flus, epilepsy, pain and Parkinson’s disease may cause your mouth to become dry and cause gum disease.
Saliva, which helps protect you from dry mouth, reportedly controls bacteria overgrowth that may cause oral disease.
What Can You Do?
Some things you can do to increase your mouth’s production of saliva and better protect your gums include:
- Making sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day
- Using a moisturizing mouth spray
- Eating snacks, such as celery and cucumbers, that help hydrate you
- Limiting how much coffee, tea, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol you drink
- Avoiding mouthwashes with alcohol
- Using a periobiotic toothpaste. It is a specialized toothpaste, which reportedly has a probiotic that competes with the unhealthy strains of oral bacteria and helps maintain healthy gums.
You should also make sure that your gums are getting the nutrients they need, and in the right amounts, to stay healthy. Many studies have shown that a balanced diet plays an essential role in maintaining periodontal health. If your diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re probably getting most of the nutrients your gums need. These nutrients include:
- Calcium. Did you know that more than 99 percent of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth? You probably know this mineral is key in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It may even help prevent tooth loss. And having a calcium deficiency may increase your risk for gum disease. In your mouth, calcium helps harden your enamel and strengthen your jawbone. You can get calcium from salmon, turnip greens, kale, broccoli and more.
- Phosphorus. This mineral works hand-in-hand with calcium to help strengthen your teeth. Calcium needs phosphorus to do its job. Dietary sources of phosphorus include salmon, halibut, yogurt, milk, turkey, chicken, beef, lentils, almonds, peanuts, eggs and bread.
- Vitamin D. It is very important to consume enough Vitamin D because, like phosphorus, it helps your body absorb calcium. A deficiency in vitamin D may cause burning mouth syndrome. Symptoms of this condition may include a burning mouth sensation, a metallic or bitter taste in the mouth and dry mouth. The NIH reports studies, which suggest that a deficiency of dietary vitamin D leads to periodontal inflammation and a delay in post-surgical periodontal healing. To see how much vitamin D you may need and which foods contain it, click here.
- Vitamin E. There are a few studies, which report favorable effects of vitamin E in maintaining gum health and controlling inflammation. A reduction of vitamin E has been reported in patients with periodontal diseases compared to healthy individuals. Foods containing vitamin E include almonds, spinach, avocados, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, red peppers and peanut butter.
- Potassium. Like vitamin D, potassium may help improve bone mineral density. It also works with magnesium to prevent blood from becoming too acidic, which may deplete calcium from your bones and teeth. High levels of potassium are found in figs, dried fruits (prunes and dates), nuts, avocados, bran cereals, lima beans, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, winter squash, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas and kiwi.
- Iron. A deficiency in this mineral may cause inflammation of the tongue. It may also cause a person to develop sores in their mouth. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas and iron-fortified cereals.
- Vitamins B12 and B2 (riboflavin). You may also develop mouth sores when you do not consume enough of the vitamins B12 and B2. For food sources of B12, click here and for riboflavin, click here.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin). A deficiency in this vitamin may cause bad breath and the development of canker sores. Chicken, fish, milk, eggs, rice, legumes and peanuts are rich in B3.
- Vitamin C. This vitamin promotes gum health. Too little vitamin C may lead to bleeding gums and loose teeth. Citrus fruits, strawberries, pineapple and mango are rich in this vitamin.
- Vitamin A. This vitamin helps with saliva secretion, which helps eliminate bad bacteria in the mouth. It helps to maintain healthy mucous membranes, which coat your gums and cheeks, making them less susceptible to disease. This vitamin may also prevent dry mouth and help your mouth heal quickly. Sweet potato, spinach, carrots, mangos, peppers, tomatoes and salmon are all rich in vitamin A.
- Water & Fiber. Help balance sugars in the mouth and help clean your teeth. Drink water with every meal, and to learn more about fiber, including fiber-rich foods, click here.
- Vitamin K. This vitamin is extremely important, because it is like a shield for your teeth. It helps protect you from substances that break down bone. It also helps your body make osteocalcin, a protein that supports bone strength. A vitamin K deficiency can slow down your body’s healing process and make you more likely to bleed. Some food sources of this vitamin include broccoli, kale, spinach, turnip greens, pumpkin, blueberries, chicken breast, figs, nuts, salmon and shrimp.
- Zinc. “Zinc is an essential trace element. In the mouth, it is present naturally in plaque, saliva and enamel. Zinc is formulated into oral health products to control plaque, reduce malodour and inhibit calculus formation. It has good oral substantivity, and elevated concentrations can persist for many hours in plaque and saliva following delivery from mouth rinses and toothpastes,” according to the NIH. The NIH also reports that a lack of dietary zinc leads to worsening of periodontal disease in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Some zinc-rich foods include lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach and chicken.
It is extremely important to talk to a competent healthcare provider and your dentist if you have concerns that your medications may be putting you at risk for gum disease, or that they may be reducing the effectiveness of your oral hygiene routine. Your provider or dentist may recommend changes to your health care program, a change in diet or medications or other steps you can take to protect your gums, teeth and your health.
You also may want to consider getting a nutrient test to make sure your body is getting and absorbing the nutrients it needs to keep your gums in their healthiest state. And the fact that you are eating healthily doesn’t necessarily mean that your body is getting the necessary nutrients to stay healthy. For more on staying healthy even when you eat the right foods, listen to this podcast.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.