Besides controlling blood glucose levels through meal planning, exercise, and consistent use of medicines, there are nutritional strategies one can use to specifically combat the development of periodontal disease, which will also benefit the heart, arteries, kidneys, and various other areas of the body.
As stated earlier, oxidation of oral tissue contributes to progression of gingivitis and periodontitis. From the oxidative reactions in the body come by-products called free radicals, which damage and kill cells. There are nutrients within the body called antioxidants, which police free radicals, either by neutralizing them or by creating a protective barrier around the cells that prevents oxidative damage.
The most well known antioxidant nutrients are vitamins C, E, and A and the carotenoids, such as beta-carotene. A 2003 review of the research on the effect of antioxidants on gum disease showed that a diet high in antioxidants may help lessen the development of gum disease. Notably, this research also finds obesity to be a risk factor for gum disease due to its potential to increase inflammation and negatively affect the immune system. Luckily, a diet rich in antioxidants is a diet rich in healthy foods, which can assist in weight management as well as blood glucose control.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Diets low in vitamin C have been shown to increase the risk of periodontal disease in the general population. Vitamin C helps promote collagen formation, neutralizes free radicals, and helps vitamin E regenerate, or change back to its form as an active antioxidant after it has been altered by its protective activity. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 90 milligrams per day (mg/day) for adult men and 75 mg/day for adult women. Smokers need an additional 35 mg above the RDA to help combat the additional oxidative damage caused by smoking. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons and their juices are well known for having vitamin C, but red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, strawberries, kiwifruit, and cantaloupe all pack more than 50 mg per typical serving. Be careful about using fruit and vegetable juices to acquire your vitamins, since even 100% juice with no added sugar is high in natural sugar and will rapidly increase blood glucose, add concentrated calories to the diet, and increase your risk for cavities. Whole fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and higher in fiber than juice, so choosing them in place of juice will help with weight management and blood glucose control.
Vitamin C itself is sensitive to oxidation, which means that cooking and exposure to light and air will destroy the nutrient. For this reason, fresh sources of vitamin C are best, and quick cooking methods such as steaming and microwaving are preferred to help food retain its vitamin C. Vitamin C is also water soluble, which means that it will leach into cooking liquids, so foods should be cooked with as little moisture as possible. Many packaged foods are fortified with vitamin C, both for its nutrient value and because it is a natural preservative. Check Nutrition Facts labels for Percent Daily Value of vitamin C, and look for more than 20% per serving.
Supplemental forms of vitamin C (sometimes listed on supplement labels as ascorbic acid) are also widely available. If you choose to take vitamin C supplements, the safe upper limit is 2,000 mg/day, although it is generally recommended that a vitamin supplement contain no more than two times one’s RDA. For vitamin C, this would be 150–250 mg/day, depending on your sex and smoking habits. Also, select the capsule form rather than the chewable form of vitamin C, because the acidity and oral retention of the chewable form may increase your risk for cavities.