Dietary DHA Omega-3 May Protect Against Gum Disease

March 17, 2010


Longitudinal Relationship between Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Periodontal Disease
Iwasaki, M. et al., Nutrition , 26 : in press , 2010.
Division of Preventive Dentistry , Dept. Of Oral Health Science , Niigata University, Niigata, Japan.


Periodontal disease or ‘gum disease’ refers to a disease of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. This involves inflammatory processes occurring within the gingival tissues. Periodontal disease is one of the main factors leading to tooth loss. Since some studies using rodent models for periodontal disease have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the levels of some major inflammatory mediators which contribute to bone destruction in periodontal disease, the present researchers initiated a study whereby they monitored dietary intakes of DHA/EPA in relation to the development of periodontal disease.

In this study, the dietary intakes of DHA and EPA in community-dwelling elderly participants (average age of 74 yrs) from the Niigata region of Japan were assessed from their food intakes over a 3-day period using food composition tables. Dental examinations were conducted at the beginning and each year for a 5-year period. The number of teeth exhibiting periodontal progression over 5-years per person were then reported as ‘periodontal disease events’. The average daily intakes of DHA and EPA for the participants were 947 mg and 635 mg , respectively, for an average intake (DHA plus EPA) of 1582 mg (1.6 gms) daily. The average number of periodontal events was 7.8 in the participants. Interestingly, those participants who were in the lower ‘tertile’ with respect to DHA intakes (ie, lower third of the total) had a 50 % greater number of periodontal events (statistically significant) . Those in the lowest intake group with respect to EPA exhibited a trend towards more events also but the differences did not reach statistical significance. The authors concluded that their findings suggest that higher intakes of DHA omega-3 fatty acid are associated with a lessened progression of periodontal disease in older people.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

This research is of considerable interest since it represents the first reported longitudinal study which has related the intake of omega-3 fatty acids to periodontal conditions in older people. The mechanism of action of DHA omega-3 likely involves its anti-inflammatory effects against various types of pro-inflammatory mediators of periodontal disease in the form of cytokines and eicosanoids. DHA and EPA are also converted to the anti-inflammatory products known resolvins and protectins. It is noteworthy that the intakes of DHA that were associated with lessened periodontal disease were well over 1000 mg per day. Such intakes, while frequent in elderly Japanese, are more than 12-times above current average DHA intakes in North America. An increasing role for the dental profession in advising on DHA/EPA intakes from fish/seafood and other sources (appropriate functional foods , supplements) may become part of future educational strategies in preventive dentistry.

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