Nutritional Education: Fighting inflammation from the inside out

Treating inflammation may not only help manage periodontal disease but may also help with the management of other chronic inflammatory conditions.


Jenniferschonbornmsh By Jennifer Schonborn
and Diana Macri, RDH, BSDH, MSEd, MAADH

You’ve probably heard something in the past couple of years about “inflammation.” About how this mysterious force can somehow lead to such health problems as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, digestive problems such as IBS, and other ills. So what is it exactly, and how can we avoid it?

Inflammation is a necessary immune response to infection or trauma, and is a good thing when it occurs in connection to problems such as sprained ankles or if we eat a contaminated food and become sick. Inflammatory disorders arise when inflammation becomes uncontrolled, and causes destruction of healthy tissue. Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, acne vulgaris and type 1 diabetes, affect more than 65 million Americans.

Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases. For a long time it was thought that bacteria was the factor that linked periodontal disease to other diseases in the body; however, more recent research demonstrates that inflammation may be responsible for the association. Therefore, treating inflammation may not only help manage periodontal disease but may also help with the management of other chronic inflammatory conditions.(1)

Stress, lack of exercise, and eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis — foods that contain chemicals, additives, damaging fats, and refined sugar, for example — can lead to chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies. This results in slowly damaged organs, poor functioning of our organ systems, and rapid aging. In addition to exercising regularly and better controlling our response to stress, the best way to prevent chronic inflammation is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. In broad strokes, here are the main tenets to follow:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. Make these foods the largest percentage of your food intake each day. The more colorful, the better. Shiitake mushrooms, pineapple, papaya, spinach, kelp, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and lots of berries!
  • Replace refined white flour with whole grains. Eating high glycemic foods, namely refined carbohydrates that digest quickly and represent a big, instantly-available caloric load, increases inflammation.
  • Eat beans instead of meat at least some of the time. Beans are packed with fiber, as well as plenty of iron and protein. They are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. They are low in calories. Plus, studies have found them to lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
  • Eat healthier fats. Olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados are all excellent. Heavily processed, hydrogenated, trans-fats, and oils that are used in prepared, packaged foods can be extremely damaging to the body. However, fats and oils from whole foods and other high-quality sources can steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, nourish our skin, hair, and nails and provide lubrication to keep the body functioning properly. Our bodies also need fat for insulation and to protect and hold our organs in place.
  • Drink tea. Green, black, and white, oolong tea are all good. Snapple doesn’t count.
  • Eat fish. Specifically, those high in omega-3s. The higher the omega-3, the lower the systemic inflammation. Good choices include raw oysters, wild salmon, and sardines. Albacore tuna is a great choice, too, but consumption by pregnant women and small children should be limited to six ounces per week.
  • Use herbs and spices. Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on par with potent drugs such as hydrocortisone and Motrin. There is no reason that healthy foods need to be bland. Such common flavor enhancers as garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon are great for cooling inflammation.

Realize that chronic digestive problems might indicate a food sensitivity. If you regularly eat foods that your body cannot tolerate, your body will be inflamed.

Diet and nutrition are vital to maintaining good oral health. Nutritional deficiencies manifest themselves orally as well as systemically. Unfortunately, many hygienists only focus on the cariogenic potential of a patient’s diet. In order to thoroughly serve our patients, however, we must be well informed about the varied effects of malnutrition.

Studies continue to confirm the poor quality of the average American’s diet. These effects have lasting repercussions which impair quality of life and burden healthcare systems. While tailoring an accurate and thorough dietary plan is beyond the scope of dental hygiene practice (nutritional deficiency or metabolic disease diagnosis should be made by a physician after more intensive data collection) a scrupulous dental hygienist is one who can educate and inspire her patients to achieve not just optimal oral health, but in adopting healthier lifestyles.


1. American Academy of Periodontology,

Jennifer Schonborn is a holistic nutrition counselor certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is the only nutrition school integrating all the different dietary theories, combining the knowledge of traditional philosophies with modern concepts such the USDA food pyramid, the glycemic index, the Zone, and raw foods. In addition to counseling, Jennifer has done a bi-weekly nutrition column, called "Safe or Scary?" for AOL's ParentDish blog, and written about nutrition for and She received her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and in a past life was an editor and writer for MTV and Visit her website at, Facebook, or on Twitter

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