If you’ve got gum disease – and about half of all adult Americans (and 70% of seniors) do – one of the very best things you can do to get it under control is to improve your diet.
That means swapping out the sugars and other refined carbs for a more nutrient-dense, less processed diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin D, and CoQ10. Multiple studies have shown that even without changing a thing about your oral hygiene, shifting to this type of diet can lead to significantly better periodontal health.
Similarly, exercise has been shown to contribute to healthier gums. This was most recently reinforced by a review of the science, which analyzed 20 studies published between 1993 and 2021, involving more than 300,000 participants. All studies were found to be of moderate to high quality.
The analysis showed that exercise reduced the risk of periodontitis by 23%. (Periodontitis is the advanced form of gum disease, in which both soft tissue and bone are destroyed.) When diet and other lifestyle factors were excluded, they found that more than twice as many sedentary people had periodontitis compared to those who regularly exercised. Exercisers also had shallower periodontal pockets, less bleeding on probing, and less clinical attachment loss.
That raises a good question, though: What happens if you both exercise AND eat healthfully? That brings us to a study published last year in the Journal of Periodontology.
Over two hundred adults took part. Diet quality was measured by adherence to a Mediterranean diet. This way of eating is heavy on vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and olive oil; moderate on fish, dairy, and meat. Participants completed questionnaires about what they ate and how much physical activity they got. Each also underwent a full periodontal exam. The researchers then crunched the numbers.
Individuals conducting a lifestyle characterized by the combination of low [Mediterranean diet] adherence and lack of regular exercise had 10 times the odds to have severe forms of periodontitis.
Most of the difference, though, appeared to come from diet. Those who were worst at following a Mediterranean diet were found to be 9 times more likely to develop severe periodontitis, regardless of how much or how little physical activity they got.
And with severe periodontitis, you’re at risk of losing teeth. As the infection destroys soft tissue and bone, there’s less there to support your teeth. They loosen in their sockets. Eventually, they become candidates for extraction, if they don’t fall out first.
By the time tooth loss sets in, diet and exercise can only help so much. intensive periodontal therapy and prosthodontics (tooth replacement) are needed, sometimes with the help of tissue grafts to restore support.
But while all these kinds of interventions can be helpful, nothing can beat natural, healthy teeth.