Can diet really reduce gum disease?

By Alvin Danenberg, DDS, contributing writer

December 14, 2016 -- We, as practitioners, have to keep up with many clinical journals. Sometimes it seems like there's not enough time to keep up with research in our own field, much less that outside our specialty. But, when performed properly, clinical research can present knowledge or proof that was previously unknown. Below, I describe two clinical research papers that have offered knowledge and proof that was previously unknown about gum disease.

One paper was published in 2009, and the other was published in 2016. They are the only studies that I have found that were well-designed and clearly showed how a healthy diet could reverse the signs and symptoms of gum disease.

These are not just anecdotal comments. These are clinical facts, published in peer-reviewed journals. These facts contribute serious knowledge to those who want to know.

1st study

Alvin Danenberg, DDS
Alvin Danenberg, DDS.

The first study was published in 2009 in the Journal of Periodontology (May 2009, Vol. 80:5, pp. 759-768). The paper was titled "The impact of the Stone Age diet on gingival conditions in the absence of oral hygiene" and included 10 individuals. For four weeks, their diet consisted of primal foods endemic to their area in Switzerland about 5,700 years ago. No processed foods were available for them to eat. These participants had to gather and forage for the majority of their food. In addition, these individuals were not able to brush or floss their teeth during the entire four weeks. Signs of gum infection were measured, and cultures of bacteria in their dental plaque were taken before and after the study.

At the end of the four-week study, there was a significant decrease in signs of gum disease even though all 10 participants could not brush or floss their teeth for the duration of the study. Although amounts of dental plaque increased, disease-producing bacteria did not increase in the plaque. These positive findings surprised the investigators.

The bottom line of that study was that a diet that completely removes processed foods reduces the signs and symptoms of gum disease.

2nd study

The second study was published in this past July in BMC Oral Health (July 26, 2016; erratum published October 6, 2016). The study, "An oral health optimized diet can reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in humans -- a randomized controlled pilot study" was a randomized control trial consisting of 15 adult participants. Randomized control trials are well-designed and the gold standard of medical research. This type of research design is highly respected in the scientific world. In this instance, the erratum concerned the authors' forgetting to list their funding sources in the original manuscript, not a clinical issue.

“The bottom line was that a diet that eliminates sugars and processed grains and includes nutrient-dense foods can reduce the signs and symptoms of gum disease.”

The trial consisted of 15 people who had signs of gum disease and were eating a diet heavily based on carbohydrates. Ten individuals made up the experimental group, and five made up the control group.

The participants in the experimental group had to change their diet. Their new diet consisted of foods low in carbohydrates, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and abundant in vitamins C and D, antioxidants, and fiber. The control group participants did not change their eating habits. As far as oral hygiene was concerned, researchers told all 15 participants not to clean between their teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes. However, they did not have to change the way they brushed their teeth.

The four-week study began after each group had a few weeks to acclimate to these changes. Researchers recorded the signs of gum disease in all participants at the start and end of the study.

At the conclusion of the trial, the researchers found that all disease parameters decreased significantly in the experimental group by about 50% from the starting point. In contrast, all inflammatory markers increased from the starting point in the control group.

The bottom line was that a diet that eliminates sugars and processed grains and includes nutrient-dense foods can reduce the signs and symptoms of gum disease.

Take-home message

Nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods frequently can reverse the signs and symptoms of gum disease. This type of diet is what I have been preaching for the last four years, and this type of diet is what I have embraced personally with observable health benefits.

A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. appreciates the opportunity to reprint it.

Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Why I take x-rays
Over the past several weeks, two potential patients have called the office of periodontist Dr. Alvin Danenberg with basically the same question:...
8 possible causes of your patient's jaw pain
A patient calls your practice and makes an appointment citing jaw pain. As periodontist Dr. Alvin Danenberg notes, sometimes reducing a patient's...
Vital to ask patients about their vitamin D intake
When you are taking a patient's health history, do you ask about supplements and vitamins? Periodontist Dr. Alvin Danenberg does, and when a patient...
Beating the beast of dental disease
Creating a program to help your patients to improve their oral health and understand the biological causes of dental disease sounds intimidating. But...
Can cannabinoids treat gum disease?
As a periodontist, Dr. Alvin Danenberg understands that new research is just information until it is tested and proved in human studies. However,...

Copyright © 2016

Last Updated np 12/13/2016 12:23:36 PM

2 comments so far ...
12/14/2016 9:04:17 PM
I would be interested in information about your diet, that reduces gum disease.
I am sure if it reduces gum disease it has other health benefits too.
In this day and age of casual eating out, and ready made quick microwave meals, how is it possible to eat a special diet?  Also is it really enjoyable to eat or do you feel like you're on a diet all the time?
Love to hear your comments.

12/15/2016 5:34:28 AM
Dr. Alvin Danenberg
I completely eliminate processed grains and processed sugars from my diet. I can eat almost anything else. I emphasize all meats and fish that are raised in their natural environments. I eat practically all vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Since I know what I will not eat, I can go to any fast-food restaurant (which I prefer not to do) and find foods that I will eat. I love what I eat, and I never feel like I am on a “diet”. The way I eat is a lifestyle, not a diet. Here is an article I wrote about “My Primal Lifestyle”. You may find it interesting: Also, this diet has changed my health. I wrote about it here: