Proven Dental Health Protection

By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (November 17, 2005)—Data from a large survey suggest that both regular exercise and high vitamin D intake have positive effects on dental health and prevent gum disease, according to studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;82:572–80) and the Journal of Dentistry (2005;33:703–10).

Gum disease—also known as gingivitis, periodontal disease, and periodontitis—is a common dental ailment marked by inflammation and caused by bacteria that infect the gums. Proper hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing and periodic removal of plaque by a dentist or dental hygienist, is often enough to prevent gum disease. Once gum disease has set in, treatment such as anti-inflammatory mouth rinses or oral medications, and possibly dental interventions such as root canals, become necessary. Left untreated, the infection can invade the jaw bones and teeth roots, causing teeth to fall out or requiring their extraction.

A high-sugar diet and diabetes are known risk factors for developing gum disease. Recent research has unveiled a link between chronic gum disease and an increased risk of heart disease. It is believed that this link is associated with the inflammation that characterizes gum disease, since inflammation is also a risk factor for heart disease.

Both of the current studies were based on the data collected in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). This survey provided information about the health and nutritional status of people in the United States between 1988 and 1994 based on interviews and physical exams.

In the first of the two studies, 2,521 adults with exercise patterns that had not changed significantly in the previous ten years underwent dental exams. Partially active people, defined as those who regularly engaged in some moderate to vigorous physical activity less than three times per week, were 33% less likely to have gum disease than those who reported no regular physical activity. Physically active people, defined as those who exercised intensively three or more times per week or moderately five or more times per week, had the lowest prevalence of gum disease—52% lower than in the inactive group.

In the second study, 6,700 adults who had had blood tests to evaluate their vitamin D status underwent dental exams. People in the highest quintile (one-fifth) for vitamin D levels were 20% less likely to have gum disease than people in the lowest quintile.

The findings of these two studies suggest that both regular exercise and having a high level of vitamin D can reduce the risk of gum disease. Improved blood sugar regulation in people who exercise regularly might contribute to their lower incidence of gum disease. Vitamin D might improve dental health through its anti-inflammatory action. Whether supplementing with vitamin D would be helpful in treating gum disease remains unknown. Additional research is needed to expand our understanding of the many ways that lifestyle can influence dental health.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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