By: Denise Foley
Have you ever seen a shark with bad gums? No, and you know why?
Well, it’s certainly not flossing. In fact, it’s all the fish oil they eat.
All kidding aside, a recent review study by Australian researchers found that people who supplement with fish oil had less periodontitis, an inflammation of the tissue, ligaments and bones that support the teeth. (Read more about the study here.)
Why Gum Disease Is Serious
The link between inflammatory gum disease and increased risk of stroke and other heart problems is well-established. It’s also associated with respiratory diseases, preterm and low-birth-weight babies, osteoporosis and diabetes -- not to mention bone and tooth loss. In fact, periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in people 35 and older in the U.S.
It all starts with bleeding gums or gingivitis, a condition in which gums become swollen and bleed easily. The cause is usually poor dental care. But 30 percent of the population is more genetically susceptible to gum disease even if they take good care of their teeth.
Here’s how periodontitis (aka gum disease) works: Plaque (aka hardened particles of debris and bacteria that cling to the teeth at the gumline) creates toxins that irritate the gums. That signals that there’s an invasion taking place, and your immune system sends its primary defense team: chemicals that cause inflammation. It all goes to heck in a handbasket after that. Gums separate from teeth, forming pockets. Those pockets fill with infection. The pockets deepen, and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Then, one day, you’re getting fitted for dentures.
While nothing is as good for your teeth and gums as brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and seeing your dentist once or twice a year (or more if you have problems), fish oil may be a good adjunct to your regular dental hygiene.
Fish Oil for Good Health
Why would it work? Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, powerful anti-inflammatories. They quell the fire that can turn into a full-blown infection, which threatens your smile. You can get omega-3s from foods such as cold-water fish (e.g., mackerel, salmon and tuna), as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, soybeans and their oil. No surprise, Americans don’t eat a lot of those foods -- hence, the need for supplements.
You can safely take up to 3 grams of fish oil per day, unless you have a bleeding disorder or are on blood-thinning medications such as warfarin or aspirin. Like those drugs, fish oil can increase your risk of bleeding. In the Australian review study, participants took anywhere from 900 to 3,000 mg of fish oil a day. In two of the studies the researchers reviewed, adding aspirin to the fish oil produced even greater improvement in gum health. Like omega-3s, aspirin is an anti-inflammatory. Many people take a baby aspirin (81 mg) daily for heart health.
Still not convinced about the benefits of fish oil? The next time you’re up close and personal with a shark, check out its gums. That is, if you can get past its teeth.
Wondering if YOU have gum disease? Here’s our sponsor’s advice on how to check for symptoms of periodontitis -- and how to cure it!
Denise Foley is Completely You’s “News You Can Use” blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women’s health and parenting.
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