For Healthy Teeth: Brush, Floss and... Fish Oil?

Good fats may protect against gum disease

To keep your teeth and gums healthy you know you’ve got to brush and floss regularly. You can add fish oil to your diet, too. Eating fish and other sources of polyunsaturated fat may help protect against gum disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health found that eating a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help prevent and treat periodontitis -- a common gum condition that can lead to bone and tooth loss. Good sources of PUFAs include salmon, mackerel, peanut butter, olive oil and nuts.

Good oral hygiene -- brushing after meals and flossing daily -- doesn’t just keep cavities at bay, it also helps ward off gum problems later in life. Thirty-five percent of Americans over the age of 30 suffer from periodontitis -- the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis, an inflammation or infection of the gums, goes untreated. If the infection spreads to the ligaments and bone that support the teeth, your teeth can loosen and eventually fall out. Not a pretty look.

Factors that can increase your risk of periodontitis include plaque buildup, smoking, diabetes and possibly stress. While standard therapies have involved treating the bacterial infection, researchers wanted to find out if targeting the inflammation would also help.

Because omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory powers, the study leaders decided to examine the prevalence of gum disease in more than 9,000 adults, and look at their diets to find out if those who regularly consumed polyunsaturated fats had fewer incidences of periodontitis. They found that those who ate the greatest amount of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in seafood, algae and coldwater fish, had a 20 percent lower risk of periodontitis than those who ate the least. But that doesn’t mean you have to stuff yourself silly with fish or fish oil supplements. The researchers found that eating a few servings of fish a week was enough to lower a person’s risk. While DHA seemed to offer the greatest protection, other types of essential fatty acids found in nuts, avocado and olive oil were also beneficial.

Even though more research is needed to confirm the researchers’ findings, including good fats in your diet can’t hurt. After all, omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent chronic inflammation and may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, depression and arthritis. Of course, brushing and flossing are still the best ways to keep your choppers happy -- no matter how much fish or peanut butter you eat a week. But it’s nice to know that if you’re meticulous with your brushing routine and still have problems with your gums, there might be more help on the horizon. For me, anything that offers an excuse to eat more sushi is definitely a reason to smile. And that it may even improve my smile? Well, even better.

What kind of good fats do you include in your diet? Chime in below!

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