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One of your most effective tools in fighting gum disease, along with regular trips to the dentist, may be adding yogurt to your diet. Here's why.

Bad breath, cavities, and loose teeth are the all-too-well known consequences of gum disease everyone knows, but did you know that gum disease can also pose a danger to your heart and even cause pneumonia?

The culprit in gum disease is plaque. This is the slimy sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on the teeth. When the inflammation along the gum line is mild, the condition is known as gingivitis. When plaque migrates beneath the gums and causes painful pockets of infection, the condition is known as periodontal disease.

Gingivitis and periodontal are not just a problem for your teeth and gums. They can trigger the body's production of cytokines, inflammatory immune chemicals that the liver converts to C-reactive protein (CRP). Many doctors now believe that CRP is the best indication of risk for heart attack, better than the more commonly measured total cholesterol and LDL.

A healthy CRP level is 0.8 milligrams per liter of blood. Gingivitis and periodontal disease can increase CRP levels to 400 to even 1,000 milligrams per liter in the most advanced cases.

This increase in CRP due to gum disease heralds a 200 to 400 per cent increase in the risk of heart attack and a doubling of the risk of stroke. Gum disease and high CRP are also associated with blood clots in the legs (DVT, or deep vein thrombosis) and in the lung (pulmonary embolism).

What Can You Do to Prevent Serious Consequences Of Gum Disease?

The most effective way to prevent gum disease is to brush after every meal and floss once a day. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash will not eliminate gum disease, but they certainly help.

Secondly, see your dentist at least twice a year for scaling and planing to remove plaque from below the gum line. Preventing plaque buildup goes a long way toward preventing periodontal disease that can affect the health of more than your teeth. However, these are not all.

Yogurt To The Rescue For Gum Disease

From Japan's Kyushu University comes a study published in the Journal of Periodontology that finds that eating yogurt may prevent gum disease.

Dr Yoshihiro Shimazaki and colleagues have been trying to find out for several years whether any personal habits besides brushing and flossing might prevent, or accelerate, the development of gingivitis. In their latest study, the scientists assessed the severity of periodontal disease in over 940 men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 against their consumption of lactic acid foods such as yogurt and buttermilk. They also looked at consumption of whole and skim milk, and cheese.

The scientists learned that eating at least two ounces (56 g) of foods cultured with the friendly bacterium Lactobacillus significantly reduced the risk of severe gingivitis, that is, with pockets more than 2 mm (about 1/10 of an inch) deep in the gums. The benefits of Lactobacillus held even when the researchers accounted for differences in age, gender, frequency of tooth brushing, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

What the scientists did not find was a protective role for consumption of milk and cheese. These foods seem to feed the bacteria that attack the gums. Only yogurt and similar foods were helpful. It's well known that acidity produced by Lactobacilli kills E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella.

What Other Foods Help Fight Gum Disease?

Which other foods contain lactic acid? Here is a partial list:

  • Cottage cheese, especially the mass-produced kind which is preserved with the acid,
  • Koumiss,
  • Kefir,
  • Sourdough breads, especially sourdough rye, and
  • Wheat beers (especially lambic).

The protective chemical also occurs in sauerkraut and salami, and wiener makers use it to give hot dogs (frankfurters) a firmer texture than the meats from which they are made. The researchers did not, however, find that eating these foods protected gums or teeth.

Yogurt, however, is your best bet. As little as one-quarter cup (about 60 g) of yogurt a day may help protect teeth and gums from chronic bacterial infection.

What About Vitamins?

Next to regular brushing, flossing, and dental care, along with healthy acidification of the diet with dairy products and fermented foods, vitamins have the closest relationship to healthy gums.

Vitamin A stimulates the gums to make keratin, the same protein that makes the skin just "tough enough" to resist wounds and infection. Vitamin A is especially important for protecting the gums against those irritated sores caused by bacterial infection. Various metabolites of this vitamin are necessary for the cells lining the gums to differentiate into new, growing cells to maintain and repair the protective outer membrane. Vitamin A also stimulates the differentiation of cells in bone into white blood cells that fight infection. And it stimulates the production of growth hormone.

Not very many foods contain vitamin A. Cod liver oil, egg yolks, whole milk, and butter head the list. Your body, however, can make vitamin A from beta-carotene, found in abundance in orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and pumpkin, and also in kale, collards, mango, broccoli, and sweet potato. The process of making vitamin A from beta-carotene is most efficient in people who have the least body fat, but anyone can avoid vitamin A deficiency by eating just one serving of a yellow or orange vegetable every day.

Gum disease is a classic symptom of scurvy, the vitamin C deficiency disease. Scurvy even occurs today, in people who consume very high dosages of the vitamin and then stop.

For instance, German diet expert Udo Pollmer tells the story of a Swedish man drank 8 to 10 glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice on his vacation in Florida, but stopped drinking orange juice when he returned to Sweden. A month later, he had lesions on the gums characteristic of scurvy. And in my own experience, a woman who had been taking 3,000 mg of vitamin C every day to complement her cancer treatment had both gum and skin sores when she stopped.

Many natural therapists also recommend vitamin E for healthy gums. There is some laboratory evidence that vitamin E counteracts the effects of mercury amalgams, although there is no proven relationship between old-style silver-mercury fillings and increased risk of gum disease.

For vitamin E, "natural" is better. Vitamin E is not one but eight related chemical compounds, and a mixture of all eight, even at a lower dose is more effective. Take one capsule of "mixed tocopherols" a day, or if you can only find alpha-tocopherol, eat vitamin E-rich foods, especially those richest in gamma-tocopherol (using a tablespoon of soybean, corn, or canola oil, all rich in gamma-tocopherol, in cooking every day, or eating an ounce of peanuts or three ounces of almonds every day).

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