Double Whammy for Gum Disease
THURSDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthSCOUT) -- If you want to keep your gums happy and healthy, stock up on vitamin C and put that cigarette out.
A new study finds that without enough daily vitamin C, you're at higher risk for gum disease. And if you smoke, your chances of developing swollen, bleeding gums is even greater. Gum disease, caused by bacterial infection, is the biggest cause of tooth loss in adults.
The largest of its kind study analyzed vitamin C intake and periodontal disease indicators in more than 12,000 U.S. adults.
"The major effect was on tobacco smokers who had less dietary vitamin C. They were at increased risk for periodontal disease," says research leader Dr. Robert Genco, chair of the oral biology department, State University of New York, Buffalo.
"Tobacco smoke per se has oxidants. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, so the net effect is there are more oxidants available to contribute" to gum disease when there's a lack of the vitamin in your system, he says.
But even if you don't smoke, you're at risk. Researchers say those who failed to take the recommended daily dose of vitamin C had one-and-a-half times the risk of developing severe gingivitis than those who took three times the daily requirement. Gingivitis is a milder form of gum disease that causes red, swollen and bleeding gums.
Vitamin C deficiency has known to play a role in gum infections since the days when sailors sucked on limes to prevent their gums from bleeding due to scurvy. Genco says the limes worked "due to vitamin C's role in the maintaining and repairing of healthy connective tissue, along with its anti-oxidant properties."
Dr. J. Max Goodson, senior member of the periodontology staff at the Forsyth Institute, an independent research institute for oral and craniofacial science in Boston, says he's intrigued.
"We know that alkaloids that come from smoking go into the body and are detoxified by the mechanism that absorbs vitamin C. There's a possibility that individuals who smoke have a possible greater need for vitamin C because of this detoxification."
But, he says "there is actually very little literature one can point to that there is a causative association." The size of this study may make it a "plausible lead," he says.
The recommended daily dosage of vitamin C is 60 milligrams per day, or about one orange. Genco says it's too soon to recommend dietary changes based solely on this study.
"But we do know that smokers are at increased risk of periodontal disease, and if they have less intake of C, they're at even greater risk."
Goodson says plenty of vitamin C should be in your diet for lots of reasons. "Vitamin C is used to detoxify, so it wouldn't matter whether a person has periodontal disease or not, you have to take it in, because your body doesn't manufacture it."
The study is in the August issue of the Journal of Periodontology.
What To Do
"It's a silent infection," says Genco. "Patients don't know they have it. You need professional diagnosis on a regular basis, twice a year, to check for signs of periodontal disease. Meticulous oral hygiene is required. Brushing alone is not adequate. You also need some sort of between-the-tooth cleaning with floss."
To learn more about gum disease, the warning signs and how to prevent it, check the American Dental Association.
And for more on smoking and gum disease, go here.