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News / October 26, 2010

Omega-3 may reduce risk of dental problems

by Guy Hiscott

New research shows that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like fish oil may help fight gum disease.

The study focused on over 9,000 adults who participated in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2004 and received dental examinations.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health found that the prevalence of periodontitis in the study sample was 8.2%. There was an approximately 20% reduction in periodontitis prevalence in those subjects who consumed the highest amount of dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The reduction correlated with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was smaller, while the correlation to linolenic acid (LNA) was not statistically significant.

‘We found that Omega-3 fatty acid intake, particularly DHA and EPA, are inversely associated with periodontitis in the US population,’ commented Asghar Z Naqvi of the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. ‘To date, the treatment of periodontitis has primarily involved mechanical cleaning and local antibiotic application. Thus, a dietary therapy, if effective, might be a less expensive and safer method for the prevention and treatment of periodontitis.

‘Given the evidence indicating a role for Omega-3 fatty acids in other chronic inflammatory conditions, it is possible that treating periodontitis with Omega-3 fatty acids could have the added benefit of preventing other chronic diseases associated with inflammation.’

Prof. Elizabeth Krall Kaye of Boston University Henry M Goldman School of Dental Medicine, notes that three interesting results emerged from this study. One was that significantly reduced odds of periodontal disease were observed at relatively modest intakes of DHA and EPA. Another result of note was the suggestion of a threshold dose; that is, there seemed to be no further reduction in odds or periodontal disease conferred by intakes at the highest levels. Third, the results were no different when dietary plus supplemental intakes were examined.

These findings are encouraging in that they suggest it may be possible to attain clinically meaningful benefits for periodontal disease at modest levels of Omega-3 fatty acid intake from foods.

Foods that contain significant amounts of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish like salmon, peanut butter, margarine, and nuts.

The research, n-3 fatty acids and periodontitis in US adults, is published in the November issue (Vol. 110, Issue 11) of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.