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Focus of anti-inflammatory diet differs from that of a traditional diet

March 1, 2012
Periodontal disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases have one common denominator: inflammation. With nutrition having played a major part in the treatment of heart diabetes and diabetes, Kris Dowling, RDH, BA, wonders if dental professionals are doing a disservice by not recommending an anti-inflammatory diet to patients with periodontal disease.
By Kris Dowling, RDH, BA
When it comes to nutrition, I’ve found the subject to be almost as touchy as discussing politics or religion. People can be very dogmatic in their beliefs with regard to what they eat and why. Giving advice or stating an opinion surrounding their choices can be a bad idea. There are so many diet and nutrition books on the market that it’s easy to become an “expert” in whatever one believes. However, there are certain things we, as dental professionals, can offer our patients regarding nutrition information.Periodontal disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases (to name a few), have one common denominator: inflammation. I strongly suspect, with continued research, there will be many more connections between inflammation and disease. To say that “inflammation” is the cause of a particular disease is not digging deep enough. What if we ask, “What is the cause of the inflammation?”It’s been known for many years that nutrition plays a major part in the recommendations for treating heart disease and diabetes, decreasing salt and sugar come to mind first, but that’s only the beginning. There are a multitude of books written on how nutrition affects these two big-league diseases, and physicians usually guide their patient’s to this information. So, I wonder, are dental professionals doing a disservice by not recommending a type of anti-inflammatory diet to our patients with periodontal disease? Maybe.What exactly is an “anti-inflammatory” diet? Well, it isn’t a traditional “diet” in the sense that it’s focused on weight loss; rather, its focus is on taming the internal inflammation of our blood, lymph, organs, etc. It actually helps out our bodies pH balance, but that’s another article for another time. Dental professionals are usually great at educating their patients on gum disease; the probable cause, its effect on oral health, and how to best prevent continued tissue/bone destruction. But what if we broadened our view of “oral health”, not just in saying there is an oral-systemic link, but acknowledging that there isn’t really a need for that distinction because the body is a complete system, always has been, always will be. I have yet to see a body walking around without it’s head. The blood that circulates through the heart also circulates through the gingival tissues, brain, etc. Ok, you get the point. Now, back to that diet I was talking about.In a nutshell, an anti inflammatory diet includes increasing vegetables and fruits, decreasing transfats and unhealthy saturated fats, obtaining high quality Omega 3 oils, reducing/eliminating refined foods/high sugar foods, decreasing/eliminating gluten, and perhaps dairy, choosing lean sources of protein, increasing dietary fiber and water, and including spices such as ginger, curry, and turmeric which have excellent inflammation reducing properties. Our patients with periodontal disease may already feel as if they’re fighting a battle to improve their oral condition, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by telling them they have to make even more changes. We can, however, discuss the role of inflammation with regards to their oral health, and educate them as to how inflammation travels and affects our bodies as a whole. We can ask our patient’s if they’d like to hear about foods that decrease inflammation, and honor their choice. The last thing anyone wants is to feel lectured to. It may be nice to have a small sheet of paper with information on food choices printed out on it for them to read later if they’d prefer. For the dogmatic, self-experts on nutrition in our dental chairs, it is probably best (while working in their mouths), to share a story about someone who has changed the way they eat and has seen some remarkable improvements in their oral health, only if it’s true of course. In my clinical work as a dental hygienist, my success stories surrounding dietary changes and oral health improvement are stacking up. Resources
Kris Dowling, RDH, BA, Certified Natural Chef, NE began her career in dentistry 28 years ago. She is a life-long learner and is currently continuing her studies in holistic nutrition at Hawthorn University.To read a previous article in RDH eVillage FOCUS written by Kris Dowling, go to article.