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Low dietary vitamin C can increase the risk for periodontal disease, especially in smokers

August 15, 2000

A study released today in the August issue of the Journal of Periodontology found that people who consume less than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C have slightly higher rates of periodontal disease. Researchers analyzed vitamin C intakes and periodontal disease indicators in 12,419 U.S. adults. They found that patients who consumed less than the recommended 60 mg per day (about one orange) were at nearly one-and-a-half times the risk of developing severe gingivitis as those who consumed three times the RDA (more than 180 mg). Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease, and it causes the gums to become red, swell and bleed easily.

Researcher Robert Genco, D.D.S., Ph.D., chair of the Oral Biology Department at The State University of New York at Buffalo, says the relationship between severe vitamin C deficiency and gum health has long been known. "In the late 18th century, sailors away at sea would eat limes to prevent their gums from bleeding," Genco said. "The relationship between vitamin C and periodontal disease is likely due to vitamin C's role in maintaining and repairing healthy connective tissue along with its antioxidant properties."

"Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disorder that increases tissue damage and loss. Since vitamin C is known as a powerful scavenger of reactive oxygen species, which form part of the body's antioxidant defense system, low levels of dietary vitamin C may compromise the body's ability to neutralize these tissue destructive oxidants," explained Genco.

Researchers also found that tobacco users especially had higher levels of periodontal disease if they also consumed lower levels of dietary vitamin C. "Since oxidants from cigarette smoking lower vitamin C levels in the blood, smokers need higher levels of dietary vitamin C to help counteract smoke's oxidants," said Genco.

"It's also important to add that cigarette smoke contains numerous oxidants that can cause periodontal tissue damage regardless of vitamin C intake," Genco added.

"Diet plays an important role in the overall well-being of oral health. Especially in light of other new research between calcium and periodontal disease," said Jack Caton, D.D.S., M.S., president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). "However, people need to keep in mind that vitamins, dietary supplements and good nutrition are not cures for periodontal disease. Patients must also brush and floss, and ask their dentist or periodontist about the state of their periodontal health to help prevent tooth loss."
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A referral to a periodontist or a free brochure titled Periodontal Disease: What You Need to Know is available by calling 1-800-FLOSS-EM, or visit the AAP's Web site at www.perio.org.

The American Academy of Periodontology is a 7,000-member association of dental professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth and in the placement and maintenance of dental implants. Periodontics is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A copy of the study, Dietary Vitamin C and the Risk for Periodontal Disease, is available by calling 312-573-3246.

American Academy of Periodontology

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