Fatty Fish, Nuts May Prevent Gum Disease

Study Shows Diet High in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids May Reduce Risk for Periodontitis

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 26, 2010

Oct. 26, 2010 -- A new study suggests eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as salmon and nuts, may help prevent gum disease or periodontitis.

Periodontitis is a common type of gum disease in which the gum tissue separates from the teeth and allows bacteria to build up. If untreated, the condition can lead to bone and tooth loss.

Researchers found that people whose diets were rich in PUFAs were as much as 30% less likely to have gum disease than those who ate little or none of this type of fat.

“We found that n-3 fatty acid intake, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are inversely associated with periodontitis in the U.S. population,” says researcher Asghar Z. Naqvi, MPH, MNS, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in a news release.

"A dietary therapy, if effective, might be a less expensive and safer method for the prevention and treatment of periodontitis," says Naqvi. “To date, the treatment of periodontitis has primarily involved mechanical cleaning and local antibiotic application."

Researchers say polyunsaturated fats have already been shown to have beneficial effects on other types of inflammatory conditions, such as heart disease, and they may also play a role in fighting the inflammation that causes gum disease.

"Given the evidence indicating a role for n-3 fatty acids in other chronic inflammatory conditions, it is possible that treating periodontitis with n-3 fatty acids could have the added benefit of preventing other chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including stroke as well,” says Naqvi.

PUFAs and Your Gums

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers compared fatty acid intake and risk of gum disease in 9,182 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2004.

The results showed those who ate moderate to high amounts of the fatty acid DHA through diet or fish oil supplements were up to 30% less likely to have gum disease than those who ate lower amounts. Those whose diets were rich in the EPA had up to a 23% lower risk of periodontitis.

Researchers found that even modest levels of these PUFAs (equivalent to less than 40 milligrams per day for DHA and 10 milligrams per day for EPA) were enough to significantly reduce the risk of gum disease.

Foods that are naturally high in polyunsaturated fatty acids like DHA and EPA include fatty fish, nuts, margarine, and peanut butter.

Show Sources


Asghar, Z. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, November 2010; vol 110: pp 1669-1675.

Krall, E. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, November 2010; vol 110: pp 1650-1652.

News release, American Dietetic Association.

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info