To Your Health

Are there some lesser-known nutrients that would help fight periodontal disease?

Q. I always considered myself healthier than most folks, but recently a tooth just fell out without warning. My dentist says I have a serious periodontal disease and recommends gum surgery. I already take a good multivitamin and have increased my vitamin C supplement. Are there some lesser-known nutrients that I might supplement that would help periodontal disease?

A. Periodontal diseases range from mild gum inflammation to a serious bone infection that can cause the loss of a tooth. There is an association between periodontal disease and several conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, but researchers are still trying to determine which is cause and which is effect. Controlling periodontal disease can at least save your remaining teeth.

Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant made in the body and also found in foods, so it is not considered an "essential" nutrient. However, supplements of Coenzyme Q10 given to candidates for gum surgery has considerably improved their gum condition within about three weeks, so much that surgery became unnecessary. Coenzyme Q10 can also be applied to gums topically.

Another nutrient that can be topically applied as a mouth rinse is folic acid. A diluted solution of folic acid, swished in the mouth for several minutes twice a day, reduces gum inflammation. Folic acid in pill form was found to help gum disease only in pregnant women, possibly only because pregnancy increases folic acid requirements, but because of legal limitations on the amount of folic acid in multivitamins it may not be sufficient for everyone. Assuming you get enough vitamin B-12, swallowing the folic acid rinse for an oral folic supplement would be safe. You may need a prescription for the folic acid solution (0.1%) to be made up by a compounding pharmacist.

Adding a hefty bioflavonoid supplement to your increased vitamin C may help as much or more than the vitamin C. The bleeding gums characteristic of scurvy are helped more by supplementing bioflavonoids than by vitamin C.

Vitamin D is important for gum health. Sun exposure is the most efficient way to improve vitamin D status, but if that is unavailable, a supplement of 1,000 IU per day as vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is safe. The cheaper synthetic form, vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), unfortunately the form often found in multivitamin formulas, is not recommended in any amount.

Our mouths are full of a variety of bacteria that harbor in the plaque that deposits on our teeth. Cranberries may help gum disease by preventing bacteria from sticking to teeth, just as it prevents bacteria in the urinary tract from sticking. Use only cranberry juice with no added sugar, diluted if the tartness is a problem. Mannitol is one of the sugars that occur naturally in cranberry juice and may be largely responsible for its ability to keep bacteria from sticking. It is expensive but can be added to cranberry juice both to make it more palatable and to improve its activity.

Certain strains of bacteria are associated with periodontal disease. Acidophilus swished in the mouth can change the makeup of the bacterial population, allowing the "friendlier" ones to outgrow the "unfriendly" bacteria. Acidophilus has an advantage over antibiotics, which would indiscriminately kill both friendly and unfriendly organisms.

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