Special edition: Oral health

The A to omega-3 of oral health nutrients

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

The A to omega-3 of oral health nutrients

Related tags Green tea Oral health Omega-3 fatty acids Nutrition

Oral health is much more than just calcium and vitamin D for healthy teeth, and vitamin C for healthy gums. A number of nutraceutical compounds are emerging with potential benefits for the oral cavity, from omega-3s to EGCG from green tea. But how much science backs them up?

For many people, the first nutrients to jump to mind for oral health are calcium and vitamin D. Even the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) couldn't argue with this, and granted vitamin D a health claim for the maintenance of bone and teeth​. 

Other vitamin and minerals with importance for the health of your mouth include iron (deficiency may produce degradation of the membrane on the tongue), niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12 (sores in the mouth), and vitamin C (everyone knows that scurvy results in bleeding gums and loose teeth).

Magnesium is also important, with a paper from researchers at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University in Germany concluding that “nutritional magnesium supplementation may improve periodontal health”​ (Journal of Dental Research​, 2005, Vol. 84, pp. 937-941).

Emerging nutraceuticals

Beyond the established vitamins and minerals, there is emerging science supporting the potential of a number of nutraceuticals to aid oral health.

Probiotics are probably the most developed, and receive their own article in our special edition. Please click here to read: Probiotics’ oral health potential gathers pace​.


The potential anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 were touted to be behind the potential for DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to decrease the risk of dental diseases.

In what was claimed to be the first longitudinal study investigating periodontal disease and omega-3 intake in older people, Japanese researchers reported that the average number of dental disease events was 1.5 times higher in people with low DHA levels, compared to those with the highest average levels of DHA (Nutrition​, 2010, Vol. 26, pp. 1105-1109).

Beyond the potential anti-inflammatory effects, the first study to demonstrate potential antibacterial activity of omega-3 against oral pathogens was reported by Dr Brad Huang and Dr Jeff Ebersole from the Center for Oral Health Research at University of Kentucky’s College of Dentistry.

Findings published in Molecular Oral Microbiology​ (Vol. 25, pp. 75-80) indicated that EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), as well as their fatty acid ethyl esters could inhibit the growth of oral pathogens, including Streptococcus mutans​, Candida albicans​, and Porphyromonas ginigivalis​ at relatively low doses.

Talking to NutraIngredients, Dr Huang said that the anti-bacterial activity of omega-3 fatty acids have, in general, been ignored, and added: “The the anti-bacterial part of the omega-3 fatty acids could be very important.

“Certainly, it could be a potential new use of omega-3 fatty acids as the nutraceuticals in the future.”


While still at a very early stage, there is evidence from laboratory data that resveratrol may exert an antimicrobial effect and reduce levels of periodontitis–causing bacteria. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong found that resveratrol offered antimicrobial effects against the periodontal pathogens Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans​ ATCC 700685 and Porphyromonas gingivalis​ ATCC 33277.

Writing in Phytotherapy Research​ (2011, Vol. 25, pp. 1727-1731), the researchers pointed to the compound’s potential to block the inflammatory process by preventing the binding of a pro-inflammatory compound called nuclear factor‐kappaB.

Beyond resveratrol, there have been reports that extracts from grape seed may also exert an antimicrobial effect and reduce levels of bad-breath and periodontitis-causing bacteria.

Results of the in vitro study, published in the journal Food Chemistry​ (Vol. 113, pp. 1037-1040), indicated that grape seed extract (97% polyphenols) could reduce the inhibit the growth of Porphyromonas gingivalis​ and Fusobacterium nucleatum, ​and also their ability to form a biofilm.

“Dental plaque, implicated in oral diseases, is a very complex biofilm which gives to bacteria a protection against antimicrobial agents,”​ explained lead author Aurelie Furiga from the University Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2 in France.

Green tea

There is also evidence that green tea, and the polyphenols it contains, may exert anti-bacterial effects, with findings from the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study published in Preventive Medicine​ (doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2010.01.010) indicating drinking one cup of green tea may improve dental health and reduce the risk of losing teeth by about 20%.

Being an observational study, the findings do not prove causality, but the link does appear to be biologically plausible, stated the authors, led by Yasushi Koyama from Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine. Previous studies have reported that green tea catechins may inhibit the action of oral bacteria linked to development of periodontal disease, they said.

“A number of experimental studies have shown that green tea catechins inhibit oral bacteria, while some experiments have indicated that the concentration of tea catechin conferring the above effect should be more than 100 mg/100 ml,”​ they wrote. “A typical preparation of green tea contains a catechin concentration of 50–150 mg/100 ml.

“Therefore, this amount of catechin contained in one cup of green tea might be sufficient to aid tooth retention.”

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