Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids May Lower Incidence of Gum Disease

Polyunsaturated fatty acids may lower incidence of gum disease

New research shows that dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids like fish oil, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, shows promise for the treatment and prevention of periodontitis is a common inflammatory disease in which gum tissue separates from teeth—leading to accumulation of bacteria and potential bone and tooth loss.

Traditionally, treatments for periodontitis concentrate on the bacterial infection. More recent strategies target the inflammatory response. In an article published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health suggest that dietary therapy may be a simpler method of prevention and treatment.

“We found that n-3 fatty acid intake, particularly docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, are inversely associated with periodontitis in the U.S. population,” said Asghar Z. Naqvi, MPH, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “To date, the treatment of periodontitis has primarily involved mechanical cleaning and local antibiotic application. Thus, a dietary therapy, if effective, might be a less expensive and safer method for the prevention and treatment of periodontitis. Given the evidence indicating a role for n-3 fatty acids in other chronic inflammatory conditions, it is possible that treating periodontitis with n-3 fatty acids could have the added benefit of preventing other chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including stoke as well.”

Foods that contain significant amounts of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish like salmon, peanut butter, margarine and nuts.

To conduct their research, investigators used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that dietary intake of the polyunsaturated fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) were associated with a decreased prevalence of periodontitis. The polyunsaturated fatty acid linolenic acid (LNA) did not show this association.

More than 9,000 adults who participated in NHANES between 1999-2004 and received dental examinations took part in the study. Dietary DHA, EPA and LNA intake were estimated from 24-hour food recall interviews. Data regarding supplementary use of polyunsaturated fatty acids were captured as well. The NHANES study also collected extensive demographic, ethnic, educational and socioeconomic data, which provided researchers with other factors to take into consideration.

The prevalence of periodontitis in the study sample was 8.2 percent, and there was an approximately 20 percent reduction in periodontitis prevalence in those subjects who consumed the highest amount of dietary DHA. The reduction correlated with EPA was smaller, while the correlation to LNA was not statistically significant.

Three interesting results emerged from this study, said Elizabeth Krall Kaye, Ph.D., professor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine:

(1) Relatively modest intakes of DHA and EPA can reduce odds of periodontal disease.

(2) Intakes at the highest levels did not further reduce the odds of periodontal disease.

(3) The results were no different when researchers examined dietary plus supplemental intakes—meaning it may be possible to attain clinically meaningful benefits for periodontal disease at modest levels of n-3 fatty acid intakes from foods.

According to the American Dental Association, periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease. The two major stages are gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a milder and reversible form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums. Gingivitis may lead to more serious, destructive forms of periodontal disease called periodontitis.

For more information on periodontal disease and prevention, visit ADA.org.

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