Whole Grains—Good for Your Gums

Healthnotes Newswire (August 24, 2006)—Fiber-rich, heart-healthy whole grains have now earned a reputation for promoting oral health. In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that eating plenty of whole-grain foods decreases the risk of developing a serious gum disease called periodontitis.

The disease—which is an advanced form of gingivitis—causes the breakdown of gum tissue and the underlying bone. Untreated, it can lead to tooth loss. Bacterial plaque is the culprit in periodontitis, causing chronic inflammation of the gums and pockets of infection to form around the teeth.

Tooth loss isn’t the only—or the worst—consequence of periodontitis. Severe periodontitis increases the chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke, as it leads to inflammation in the arteries and makes it easier for blood clots to form. Pregnant women with periodontitis are also far more likely to give birth prematurely than are women with healthy gums.

While poor oral hygiene contributes to the disease, other factors like tobacco use, genetics, pregnancy, stress, and poor nutrition are linked to periodontitis.

People with disorders of blood sugar control like diabetes also have an increased risk of periodontitis, and having severe periodontal disease makes it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar.

Studies have shown that people with poor blood sugar control have more inflammation in their bodies. Since whole grains—those that have not lost the bran and germ to the refining process—help to stabilize blood sugar levels and control inflammation, the authors of the new study aimed to determine if eating more whole grains might decrease periodontitis risk.

More than 34,000 men between the ages of 40 and 75 took part in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the results of which were reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Over a 14-year period, the men gave detailed information about their dietary habits, including how much and how often they ate different whole-grain foods like brown rice, whole grain cereals, cooked cereals, popcorn, and dark breads.

Men who ate the most whole-grain foods had a 23% lower chance of developing periodontitis than did those who ate the least. For every 1 gram per day increase in the amount of whole grains that they ate, the risk of periodontitis went down by 6%.

The researchers concluded, “Eating four or more servings of whole grain per day (3/4 cup whole-grain cereal or one slice of whole wheat bread constitutes one serving) without increasing total calories may reduce periodontitis risk.”

Getting enough calcium and antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C may also help reduce the risk of developing periodontitis.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:1395–400)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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