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The gum improvements produced by...

Posted Sep 11 2008 7:09pm

The gum improvements produced by omega-3 fats can be easy to see:

1. About six months ago, my dentist noticed that my gums were in excellent shape (a healthy pink, not red), for the first time in memory. I had started taking 3-4 Tablespoons/day flaxseed oil a few months earlier. I hadn’t made other dietary changes nor had I started brushing or flossing my teeth more. I have slacked off the usual dental care (I floss less often) but my gums have remained in excellent shape, according to my dentist.

2. When Tyler Cowen (author of Discover Your Inner Economist ) starting taking 2 Tablespoons/day flaxseed oil, his gums got much better within weeks. They improved so much surgery was canceled.

3. Catherine Shaffer, a Michigan writer, had the same experience with fish oil:

I bought a bottle of Carlson Laboratories [fish oil] and began taking the recommended dosage [1 teaspoon/day] . . . My gums have been chronically inflamed for as long as I can remember. They were reddish in color, had a tendency to bleed when poked, and have earned me many lectures on flossing from my dental hygenist. I have had to brush three times a day and floss twice to keep the inflammation down. However, as soon as I started taking the fish oil, my gums turned a pale pink, and I even though I have been very lazy about flossing, they have not been bleeding.

Maybe I should have called gingivitis (inflamed gums) the new scurvy. (Vitamin C cures scurvy in a few weeks.) Such fast big lasting improvements imply the flaxseed or fish oil supplied something important that was missing. Too much inflammation is a body-wide problem — many conditions end in -itis (e.g., arthritis) — so it is likely that the flaxseed or fish oil is having other benefits. Consistent with this idea, gum disease is correlated with several other health problems, including stroke, heart disease, and low-weight babies.

According to an online health-info source, echoing conventional wisdom:

Gingivitis is the most common and mildest form of oral/dental disease. According to the Food and Drug Administration, approximately 15 percent of adults between 21 and 50 years old, and 30 percent of adults over 50, have gum disease . . . The main cause of gingivitis is plaque . . . The best defense against gingivitis is brushing and flossing after meals, as well as professional cleaning by a dental hygienist every three to four months.

How fragile the conventional wisdom (”The main cause of gingivitis is plaque . . . The best defense . . . is brushing and flossing”) turns out to be. Eighty years ago, Weston Price, a Cleveland dentist, had the same doubts I do. In travels around the world, he saw many people with excellent teeth who never brushed them. They ate ancient diets, with far more omega-3 than modern food.

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