Over half of Americans have some form of gum disease (also called periodontal disease). Fortunately, if you catch your gum disease early enough you can stop the progression and reverse damage.
Gum disease is difficult to treat and reverse without accurate information and much of what most people have been told actually does more harm than good.
It’s time to set the record straight.
You can only stop the progression of gum disease with a combination approach including three essential elements:
- A gum disease fighting diet
- Professional care
- Proper oral hygiene
These are listed in order of importance in the long term.
The problem with treating gum disease is that there’s a lot of misinformation out there on how to properly prevent and reverse it. A majority of the misconceptions are related to dental hygiene, so I’ll briefly touch on those.
First, make sure you actually have good oral health habits and aren’t unintentionally causing your gums any harm. Check the list below – some might surprise you.
- You ARE using extra soft bristles
- You ARE swapping out your toothbrush every three months (Bristles sharpen over time)
- You aren’t brushing too hard (This is a huge one – I often suggest that my patients brush with their opposite non-dominant hand to prevent this)
- You aren’t using Listerine or strong antibacterial mouthwash
While dental hygiene is important in fighting gum disease, diet is more effective and should be priority number one.
If you aren’t getting the right nutrients to support a robust immune system you can have great dental habits and still wind up with gum disease. Food should be considered medicine and its influence on gum disease is no exception.
Hippocrates said it over 2400 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Key nutrients for fighting gum disease
A healthy body naturally fights gum disease. There are however some nutrients that are especially effective. The key is to eat foods that nourish your oral microbiome. To make sure you have the right nutrient building blocks within your diet, make sure you follow the guidelines below.
Aim to eat foods that are high in:
- Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – CoQ10 is an antioxidant found throughout the body and needed for proper cell function. Studies have found that people with sufficient CoQ10 are less likely to have gum disease. In fact, if you have enough of this antioxidant and you also have gum disease, your CoQ10 levels in your gums will increase in concentration. This can suppress the progression of periodontal inflammation.
- Collagen – When you have gum disease, your gums will reorganize the tissue makeup to deal with the inflammation – this results in collagen degradation. To combat this, you’ll need to eat foods with lots of collagen.
- Catechins – These are disease fighting phenols and antioxidants. Catechins have shown to be effective in treating gum disease through inhibiting harmful bacteria and preventing gum inflammation.
- Vitamin C – Studies have found that gum disease is associated with low Vitamin C levels. By increasing your Vitamin C intake, you can boost your immune system so it can fight the disease causing bacteria and help regenerate your gums. Additionally, you need Vitamin C for collagen maturation, which helps keep the periodontal ligament and other tissues healthy.
- Beta Carotene – Studies have found eating foods high in beta-carotene help those with gum disease heal better. Beta carotene is a provitamin your body turns into Vitamin A, which reduces inflammation.
- Omega-3s – Omega-3s are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and our body’s need them for a healthy immune system. One study found that omega-3 intake was inversely associated with gum disease.
You need to increase your intake of each of these important nutrients if you want to tackle your gum disease head-on. On the other hand, you’ll support your oral microbiome even more effectively if you eat less harmful foods.
To reduce the impact of gum disease you’ll want to starve the bad bacteria by eliminating:
- Sugar (bad bacteria loves sugar)
- Refined carbohydrates
Now that you know the best things to put in your body for fighting gum disease, here’s a closer look at the top 12 foods that contain these key ingredients.
The 12 Best Foods to Eat if You Have Gum Disease
1. Nuts and seeds high in omega 3s
These include macadamia nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds. Omega-3s are essential to a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet. Omega-3s are great for you because they are anti-inflammatory but also have an inverse relationship with gum disease. These nuts are great sources of nutrients as well.
2. Salmon or other fatty fish
Oily fish such a salmon, herring, and mackerel are great sources of nutrients and are high in omega-3s. Due to their oil content, they have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and are great for the immune system.
3. Grass-fed beef
Because we don’t eat organ meats like our ancestors did, we need to be conscientious about our collagen intake. Grass-fed beef contains collagen, which is great for fighting gum disease.
It’s also high in omega-3s, which is one of the reasons so many health gurus specify the feed of the cow. Grain fed beef is packed with omega-6s, antibiotics, and other inflammatory, disease causing components. It’s just not worth it to eat grain-fed beef anymore.
Chicken contains CoQ10 and collagen, which are both excellent in the fight against gum disease. Don’t skip the skin either. Many people forgo eating the chicken skin because it’s high in fat, but chicken skin is packed with collagen.
5. Bone broth
We don’t eat the whole animal like we once did, which means we’re missing out on important nutrients like collagen. But you can get more of this nutrient in your diet with bone broth. Bone broth is gaining popularity as a health superfood because it’s a delicious way for us to get more of the nutrients we miss out on in the modern world.
6. Shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms contain lentinan, which is a polysaccharide only found in this particular type of mushroom. Lentinan attacks the harmful gum disease causing bacteria while leaving other bacteria alone. Shiitake mushrooms are also powerfully anti-inflammatory and have been seen in studies to reduce numerous inflammatory markers.
Broccoli is packed with Vitamin C which acts as an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C has been inversely associated with gum disease. Broccoli also provides tons of other nutrients. Broccoli contains Vitamin B1, magnesium, iron, calcium, niacin, and selenium. Any nutrient dense diet should contain broccoli.
8. Red and green bell peppers
High in Vitamin C, red and green bell peppers are a great addition to a gum disease fighting diet. One cup of red bell peppers contains over 300% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C. While green bell peppers contain over 200% of the Vitamin C you need in a day. In fact, both red and green bell peppers have more Vitamin C than an orange. Add more bell peppers to your diet for an easy and delicious boost in Vitamin C.
9. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of many nutrients but they made this list specifically for their beta carotene content. Beta carotene is an essential nutrient in the fight against gum disease. It reduces inflammation and provides your body with the elements it needs to create Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes also contain high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and Manganese.
10. Green tea
Green tea is high in catechins. Remember catechins? Those were one of the key gum disease fighting nutrients listed above.
Not only is green tea high in catechins, but it’s also been found to have an inverse relationship with periodontal disease. One study that analyzed 940 men found there was an inverse association between green tea consumption and periodontal disease. Meaning those that drink more green tea have a lower chance of developing gum disease.
Cacao is also high in disease-fighting catechins, which help stop gum disease. Cacao is great for your teeth overall because it fights cavities, plaque, and tooth decay. Compounds in cacao are more effective at fighting tooth decay than fluoride. Cacao also contains a compound called CBH, which hardens your enamel.
To eat cacao that’s actually good for you and not loaded with sugar, go for a raw chocolate that is 70 percent or more. Look for a low sugar content too. Cacao and cocoa differ in processing. Cacao hasn’t been exposed to high heat, is still raw, and still contains it’s 300+ compounds, many of which are beneficial to your health.
12. Probiotic containing foods
These include kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Probiotics support the good bacteria in your mouth and reduce gingivitis and plaque buildup. Fermented foods are also thought to suppress the growth of oral pathogens.
One study found those who drank fermented dairy benefited from protective effects against gum disease – though it wasn’t clear whether it was due to the increase calcium or the probiotics (or both!).
Stop gum disease in its tracks
The best weapon against gum disease is proper knowledge of how it works and what can be done to prevent it. Now that you know what to eat and how to take care of your teeth and gums — the right way — I hope you feel better equipped to stop gum disease in its tracks. Whether you’re trying to fight gum disease or just prevent it, the advice in this article will be helpful to you.
Share this article with a friend or family member who’s still following old dental hygiene advice. We now know that diet is the first line of defense against gum disease and it’s important to spread the word!
Dr. Mark Burhenne