If your hands bled when you washed them, you’d see a doctor, right? Yet many people whose gums bleed when they brush seem to think nothing of it.
That bleeding is a sign of gum disease, and up to three-quarters of American adults have it to some degree. This is serious business, as science continues to establish strong links between periodontal problems and other inflammatory conditions – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and more.
As gum disease progresses, pockets form in the little gap between tooth and gum called the sulcus. These pockets are dark, moist and don’t get much oxygen – ideal breeding ground for bacteria and other oral pathogens. As they proliferate, the pockets deepen. The supporting alveolar bone weakens. The teeth may become loose. Eventually, they may fall out – or a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in the structures that support the teeth) may recommend removing them.
At that point, you’re looking at dentures or implants. And big time dental bills.
Of course, that’s what happens only if you don’t do anything about it. Fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done, from ramping up oral hygiene to nutritional interventions to ozone therapy, periodontal surgery and laser treatments.
There are also lots of natural compounds that can help improve gum health. One that’s been getting more attention lately is curcumin – the main compound in turmeric, a spice used in curries and other Asian dishes. Turmeric has long held an important role in the Indian medical tradition known as Ayurveda, as it has been shown to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. A growing body of research suggests that curcumin may be of help in treating many specific health problems, including those linked to periodontal disease – as well as gum disease itself.
Late last year, a small but compelling study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research suggested a role for curcumin in treating gum disease. The researchers first charted the periodontal conditions of 25 young to middle aged adults with periodontitis. Then each subject underwent scaling and root planing – the typical deep cleaning procedure for perio patients. Members of a test group were also treated with 1% curcumin gel. The result?
Those who received the gel showed “significant” improvement in the condition of their gums. Six months later, the number of pathogens – including P. gingivalis, one of the main microbes involved in gum disease – were significantly lower.
This builds on previous research. As commentary in the Natural Medicine Journal explains,
In the past decade, several studies have substantiated its effectiveness and supported its therapeutic potential as an armament to protect patients from the ravages of serious and chronic disease. Its compelling nature lies in its ability to influence a vast range of molecular and intercellular targets. Its biological actions include but are not limited to the (1) anti-inflammatory, (2) antioxidant, (3) antiallergic, (4) anticarcinogenic, (5) antimutagenic, (6) anticoagulant, (7) antidiabetic, (8) antifibrotic, (9) antiulcer, (10) antifungal, and (11) antibacterial.
More research remains to be done – particularly larger studies – but thus far, the evidence for curcumin is good, and there appears to be no downside.
Curcumin supplements are available and effective, and they may be especially indicated in advanced or severe cases of gum disease. But whether you have perio problems or not, it can be a good thing to get more turmeric into your diet. And yes, there’s a lot more you can do with it besides make curries. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- How to Get More Turmeric in Your Diet Right Now
- 10 Easy Ways to Add Turmeric to Your Diet
- 7 Ways to Eat (& Drink) Turmeric
- 10 Amazing Turmeric Recipes
Image via Wikimedia Commons