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Bleeding Gums are a Symptom of Scurvy


There are two main reasons that gum disease is so closely linked to vitamin C status. Vitamin C is required for the development of collagen, the ground substance between our cells that gives tissues their integrity, and our gums are fragile tissues to begin with.  That is why bleeding gums is a symptom of scurvy.

Our mouths are exposed to the outside world and its flood of nasty things like bacteria.  Vitamin C is required for the development of our immune systemís specialized disease-fighting cells.  Infection is much more likely if your vitamin C intake is not optimum.

The saying "long in the tooth", referring to something getting old, originates from the appearance that our teeth get longer as we get older.  The fact is the gums of people with sub-clinical scurvy recede with age, exposing more tooth.  Take lots of C and don't become part of a saying!

  • Gummed-up Gums

Below are several pages from the section Gummed-up Gums from  The Vitamin C Connection by Emanuel Cheraskin, Dr. W. Marshall Ringsdorf, Jr. and Dr. Emily L. Sisley, Copyright 1983, Harper & Row, pages 150-153.  This is an excellent book that is currently out of print.  The is tons of information and, as you will see, an easy book to read.  Pick up this book if you see it.  The bolding of certain phrases is added by me.

Almost two hundred years after Navy surgeon James Lind studied the Vitamin C Connection (although he did not call it that), two of his descendant colleagues F. Stanley Roff and A.J. Glazebrook, worked with a group of sixteen year old Royal Navy trainees.  For twenty-two days, each subject received 200 mg of vitamin C each day.  For the next twenty-three days, they were given 50 mg daily.  The incidence of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) declined 13 percent in contrast with a bare 3 percent in controls.  Roff and Glazebrook use a phrase we have used, contending that the marked C deficiency noted by lab tests actually amounted to "subclinical scurvy."  And as for there being no way to brush away the defenders, they say: "Marginal gingivitis is due to accumulation to food debris and tartar deposit associated with lack of oral hygiene, and that improvement in personal cleanliness and routine dental treatment will, in the majority of cases, lead to a cure.  The most energetic efforts of this type, however, fail to cause any change in the commonest lesion observed amongst these boys, which is a gingivostomatitis clearly associated with hypovitaminosis C.  For investigations upon actual cases have in every instance shown a deficiency in this factor, and saturation with ascorbic acid has never failed to effect a cure" [italics added].  That, we believe, is saying a mouthful for the vitamin C connection to oral-tissue problems.

But that's not the only pro-c mouthful.  Emma D. Kyohs and her team at the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin General Hospital in Madison wrote:  "The most striking observation of [our]  entire study was the relationship between the plasma ascorbic acid level and the health of the gums."

In a seventeen-month study of seventy-one male prisoners, Kyhos and co-workers saw gingival improvement increased in direct proportion to the amounts of C given:  25, 50, then 75 to 100 mg.

In an experiment involving 150 male and female personnel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Major W.J. Linghorne and his colleagues chose participants who exhibited mild to moderate gingivitis.  Each subject first underwent local treatment (cleaning and polishing of the teeth) along with instructions for home care oral hygiene.  Then each subject was started on one of four ascorbic acid dietary regimes:

  • 10 mg per day
  • 25 mg per day (simulating the then - standard civilian average)
  • 10 mg per day plus a 70 mg tablet of vitamin c
  • 75 mg per day

Following another prophylactic session, gum status was graded in terms of gingival bleeding, tenderness, redness and swelling.  Eight months later, the examination was repeated.  Readers of this book will, at this point, hardly be surprised to learn that - generally speaking - the greater the amount of C, the greater the degree of improvement. 

At Window Nook, Arizona, 168 Navajo students were paired according to age, sex, and gingival status.  One group received 300 mg of C daily in tablet form; the other, a placebo.  Barbara S. McDonald, a Nutrition and Dietetics Officer of the Division of Indian Health, United States Public Health Service, reports marked gum improvement in the C - supplemented group.

Similar results were obtained in fifty-three dental students observed over a twelve month period by A.E. Thomas and colleagues at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry in Birmingham.  Half the students refrained from taking citrus fruit; the other half received daily supplementation of frozen orange juice.  The report says that there was a noticeable worsening of gingival hue (gum color is a good clue to gum health) in the non-supplemented group and "a significant improvement in gingival hue" in those subjects who drank orange juice.

Another University of Alabama team head by Gamal El-Ashiry randomly chose subjects who would receive a 100 mg lactose placebo with each meal for twenty-one days, and an equal number who were given 100 mg of synthetic vitamin C at the same meal time points.  Each subject received a thorough scaling of the teeth on one side of the mouth.  This matches our "four possibilities" design described earlier:  prophylaxis (cleaning and polishing) with C; no prophylaxis with C; prophylaxis with placebo; no prophylaxis with placebo.  Gingival assessment for the twelve front teeth was made before scaling and after twenty days of the C or placebo.  Neither the examiner nor the patient was aware of the initial scores or the nature of the supplement.

As one might expect, there was no significant change in the group with no prophylaxis and no C.  At the opposite end of the pole, improvement was greatest with prophylaxis plus C - a 58 percent reduction in gingival inflammation.  The other two groups also showed improvement, so El-Ashiry and his colleagues conclude that both prophylaxis and Vitamin C are valuable tools in combating gummed up gums, but the combination of the two works best of all.

The same investigators tested Vitamin C versus placebo, with and without oral prophylaxis, on sulcus depth.  (The sulcus is the cuff of tissue surrounding each tooth.)  With Vitamin C alone, the improvement in sulcus depth was 30 percent.  With C plus prophylaxis, it was 33 percent. 

Sulcular oozing of fluid, along with gingival bleeding, the general condition of gums, and the amount of plaque on the teeth, were measures of oral health or sickness used by R.N. Vest, Jr. and H. Zion in a study performed at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry in Birmingham.  The investigation is of particular interest because (1) the experiment was done in a conventional dental setting where Vitamin C is not recognized as a factor in gum disease, and (2) it involved the use of the highest amount of C - 3000 mg per day - yet reported for oral research.

Subjects were twenty-nine young women and eleven young men all between the ages of twenty and thirty and presumably in good health.  Each subject first received a thorough scaling of the teeth on one side of the mouth.  Then half the subjects were given 1000 mg of Vitamin C three times daily; the remainder, an indistinguishable placebo.

No change occurred in the control group, but the ìcombined effect of the prophylaxis and Vitamin C appeared to be the greatest while the prophylaxis alone and the Vitamin C therapy alone yielded essentially the same result".

An article Vitamin C and oral health in J Can Dent Assoc, 6(3):705-7 1989 Sep states:

"Maintaining natural dentition is a realistic goal given today's improved caries control and attention to good oral hygiene. Expanding knowledge in the area of periodontal diseases provides further insight into health promotion practices which can be effective in preventing tooth loss. Vitamin C's role in maintaining the health of teeth and gingivae remains unchallenged. Now clinical evidence indicates that vitamin C functions in improving host defence mechanisms and is thereby implicated in preserving periodontal health. Common sense tells us that the monitoring of the vitamin C status of individuals, especially those at high risk (e.g., diabetics, smokers, elderly, etc.) for inadequate intakes, will yield positive results for periodontal health. Patient education programs that stress the importance of good nutrition, while at the same time providing practical information for the selection of a well balanced diet, are simple measures that will benefit many."

  • Sensitive Teeth

Vitamin C is required for the proper generation of collegan.  Collagen is especially important to the tissues of our bodies that require a higher degree of toughness, like tendons, spinal discs, arteries, and, yes, even bones.  Chronic C deficiency leads to a loss of integrity of the tissues.  People that suffer from sub-clincal scurvy are most susceptible to chronic problems, including disc herniations, atherosclerosis, and perhaps sensative teeth.

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