For more than a century, the mantra of the vast majority of experts in the dental profession has been that bacteria are the main cause of cavities, tooth loss, and failing enamel. Some dental advocates, however, have pointed the blame elsewhere: dietary and nutritional deficiencies, including insufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Some of the pioneers in the realm of dietary deficiencies as a cause of poor oral health were Dr. Weston A. Price, a Cleveland dentist who firmly believed that refined, denatured food was the cause of the decline in health in our society. He, along with researchers Edward and May Mellanby, and others, were ardent advocates of good nutrition as a way to save your teeth.
Unfortunately, other powers, including the American Dental Association, took a nearly fatal bite out of that argument during the early twentieth century and successfully championed for bacteria as the culprit, along with drilling, use of fluoride, and other unnatural approaches to dental “health.”
One of the most vocal modern day advocates of optimal nutrition for dental health is Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay and a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. As a dental health investigator, Nagel has conducted extensive research on tooth decay and is following in the footsteps of Dr. Price and his colleagues. Among them is Harvard Professor Earnest Hooton, who stated that “It is store food that has given us store teeth.” In other words, our diet gives us cavities and tooth decay. If you want to stop cavities and improve your oral health, change your diet.
Nagel notes that there has been evidence since the 1930s showing that taking fat-soluble vitamins and supplementing the diet with minerals “will cause tooth cavities to remineralize.” At the same time, “there is little or no nutritional information taught in today’s ‘modern’ dental schools.” Since many dental professionals are not a great source of nutritional information concerning oral health, what does the research show us?
Omega-3 fish oil and oral health
A quick look at the literature reveals numerous studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil (e.g., EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid]) for teeth, gums, and oral health in general. For example, a 2010 study evaluated gum disease and omega-3 consumption in nearly 9,200 adults. Dental examinations of the participants revealed that those who were in the middle and upper third for consumption of omega-3s from fish oil (especially DHA, but also EPA) were 23 percent to 30 percent less likely to have developed gum disease.
In a 2014 study from Harvard, experts reported that supplementation with DHA was associated with a significant improvement in periodontitis, a serious inflammatory gum disease that affects up to half of the US population and is characterized by destruction of the soft tissue and bone that support teeth. As the gums and bone recede from the teeth, pockets form in the gums, where bacteria and debris collect and result in an infection. As the infection spreads, toxins made by the bacteria cause the teeth to break down.
In the study, 46 adults who had moderate periodontitis were randomly assigned to take either DHA (2,000 mg) or a placebo corn or soy oil capsule daily for three months. All of the participants also took 81 mg aspirin daily. The authors evaluated the change in pocket depth (in the gums) at the end of three months and found that those who took the DHA had a significant decrease, which translated into better support for the teeth and thus reduced risk of tooth loss.
Similarly, a Japanese study involving 55 elderly individuals found that those who had the lowest intake of DHA had 1.5 times more periodontal disease issues when compared with participants who had the highest intake of DHA. Those in the latter category were taking more than 600 mg or more than 1,000 mg daily (for females and males, respectively).
Nearly half of all adults in the United States have periodontal disease and thus risk losing teeth and experiencing significant pain and discomfort. Diet and nutrients play a critical role in oral health, yet the dental profession offers little to no dietary or nutritional information or encouragement to patients to protect their teeth and gums. Regular intake of a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement is one way to help prevent this common dental disease.
Iwasaki M et al. Longitudinal relationship between dietary w-3 fatty acids and periodontal disease. Nutrition 2010; 26(11-12):1105-9.
Medical News Today. What is periodontitis?
Naqvi AZ et al. Docosahexaenoic acid and periodontitis in adults: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Dental Research 2014 Aug; 93(8): 767-73
Naqvi AZ et al. n-3 fatty acids and periodontitis in US adults. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2010 Nov; 110(110: 1669-75