Good hygiene is only a part of preventing – or reversing – gum disease. While hygiene helps keep periopathogens under control, nutrition helps restore the tissues that they wreck.
On the one hand, it’s about limiting foods that feed the harmful bacteria in your mouth – sugar, of course, but also refined grain products (think bread, crackers, pasta, and the like) and starchy foods (think potatoes, fries and chips).
But it also means increasing your intake of more healthful foods that give you the nutrients you need to keep your gums healthy and the supporting jawbone strong. For gum disease doesn’t just damage the soft tissues. It also destroys the bone underneath. It’s why teeth become loose as periodontal disease progresses. Eventually, they fall out.
But they don’t have to. Not if you give your body what it needs to reverse the damage.
Vitamin D for Gum Health
While there are many nutrients – vitamins and minerals alike – that play a crucial role in periodontal health, a couple are especially important: vitamin D3 and vitamin K2.
D is crucial for helping your body absorb calcium, one of the main minerals that makes up bone. How crucial? Recent studies of professional football players, for instance, suggest the importance of D to both health and performance. They aren’t definitive studies, but it’s intriguing that players low in this nutrient experience more bone fractures and muscle injuries.
Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce inflammation – another key to its power in reversing gum disease. Inflammation is one of the ways gum disease has been linked to a range of other health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more.
Though eggs and some fatty fish contain good amounts of D, most of what we get comes from the sun. It’s ultraviolet rays turn 7-Dehydrocholesterol in your skin to cholecalciferol, a/k/a vitamin D3. How much exposure you need depends on where you live and how darkly complected you are. If you’re fair-skinned, a few minutes can be enough. If your skin is darker, you’ll need more.
Fortunately, there’s an online tool that will calculate the ideal amount of sun time for you. It’s not the most beautiful thing, but it does the job.
It may be a testament to our sedentary lifestyles that many Americans are totally deficient in D and could benefit from supplementation. Likewise, supplements are an option for those with gum disease, since you need more than just the recommended amount – a therapeutic dose.
Vitamin D3 + K2 = A Winning Combination
While D3 is great, it can’t do the best it can without another nutrient: vitamin K2.
K1 is the form we get from foods like dark leafy greens. It’s good, but not as good as K2, which is mainly produced by intestinal bacteria, or gut flora. Probiotics can help ensure a good supply, though like D, it can be taken in supplement form, as well. A combo supplement of D3 and K2, together in the same pill, is ideal. And powerful.
As D helps your body absorb calcium, K is needed to direct that calcium to the proper location – bone – and not your organs or arteries. Additionally, as Dr. Mercola notes,
Vitamin K2 activates a protein hormone called osteocalcin, produced by osteoblasts, which is needed to bind calcium into the matrix of your bone. Osteocalcin also appears to help prevent calcium from depositing into your arteries.
You can think of vitamin D as the gatekeeper, controlling who gets in, and vitamin K as the traffic cop, directing the traffic to where it needs to go.
Consistently with our patients, we see D3 and K2, along with a good multivitamin, making a big difference in periodontal health. And as always, supporting the health of your gums goes a long way toward supporting your overall health and well-being.
Teeth image by dozenist, via Wikimedia Commons;
sun image by Jalal Hameed Bhatti, via Flickr