Omega-3 and Dental Health (revisited)

A few years ago I learned that flaxseed oil improved my gums and other people’s — especially Tyler Cowen’s. A few months ago I went to Beijing for two months. Toward the end of the visit my gums would bleed when I’d use a toothpick. Yet I was drinking 3 tablespoons of flaxseed oil every day, just like in Berkeley.

Well, my Beijing flaxseed oil was old. Stored in a freezer, yes, but about 9 months old. When I returned to Berkeley, I bought fresh flaxseed oil. In a week, my gums were much better. The bleeding stopped.

Last week I went to the dentist. He measured my “pockets” — the distance a probe can be inserted between the gum and the tooth. The readings were almost all 2′s (mm), with a few 3′s and one 1. Years ago, before flaxseed oil, the rear teeth were 4s and 5s. Now I floss and brush my teeth less than back then. Because of living in China, I haven’t had my teeth cleaned in more than a year (unprecedented) so I have the most plaque ever in my life. Yet my gums are the healthiest they’ve been, after just a few weeks of good flaxseed oil. (“Your gums are in good shape,” said the dentist.) This suggests that plaque doesn’t matter, the opposite of what one dentist told me and what Wikipedia appears to say (“The focus of treatment for gingivitis is removal of the [usual] etiologic (causative) agent, plaque.”). Nothing is said about too-little omega-3.

All this suggests that gingivitis, a disease of inflammation, is due to too-little omega-3. This is even more plausible because omega-3 is a precursor of an anti-inflammation signaling molecule. Here’s the sequence of events that led to this conclusion: 1. Several people wondered if they could do the Shangri-La Diet with flaxseed oil, so I tried some. It seemed to improve my balance. 2. Careful measurements of my balance confirmed this. 3. Further measurements showed that more flaxseed oil continued to improve my balance until I reached 3 tablespoons/day, which is far more than any recommended dose I’ve seen. 4. Readers of this blog and friends tried taking flaxseed oil in similar amounts. Everyone who did so, as far as I know, found their gums greatly improved. 5. One person stopped taking the flaxseed oil. His gums got worse. He resumed. They got better again. 6. The story I tell here.

Notice how important blogs (this blog) are in this story. It’s a kind of microscience — I learn something via self-experimentation, I post it, people write in with their experience — that has turned out to be surprisingly informative, given the many ways it differs from professional science (no long training, no lab, no grants, no peer review).

23 Responses to “Omega-3 and Dental Health (revisited)”

  1. stefan Says:

    Hi Seth,
    Could you please let me know if your practice is to “mouth wash” with the flax seed oil and then swallow it, or is it simply to swallow the flax seed oil?
    Thanks, Stefan

  2. Seth Roberts Says:

    I just gulp it down (very fast), with my nose clipped shut. I leave the noseclip on for a few minutes to let the smell disappear.

  3. Mike Says:

    Hey Seth,

    Thanks for posting. Any idea why Flaxseed Oil in China was not helping your gums?

  4. Nathan Myers Says:

    I buy the Barlean brand that comes in a squeeze bottle, and squirt it in directly. When my gums are tender, I slosh it about before swallowing, and the tenderness clears up in a day or two.

  5. Robin Clarke Says:

    Any reason to believe that fish oil would not have the same effect? Could it be something else in the flaxseed oil? (And I wasn’t aware it was particularly obnoxious anyway.)

  6. Jen Says:

    Do you think fish oil would have the same benefits, given that it’s high in Omega 3s?

  7. john Says:

    Tom Levy MD in his book about heart disease recommended using an irrigator with some hydrogen peroxide in it. It’s easier than flossing. And lots of vitamin c.

  8. Brian Says:

    Seth, why the nose clip in conjunction with the flax seed oil? I don’t remember clipping even mentioned in the SLD but I guess here you’re trying to avoid weight gain from flax seed oil or perhaps you’re trying to improve your gums (and brain) while also losing weight.

  9. Annie Says:

    Seth – I’ve been following your experiments with flax, both for dental health and appetite suppression. Do you suppose hemp seed oil would produce the same benefits? I’m inclined to use hemp seed oil because it’s supposed to be a better balance of omega 6s and 3s. In doing so, I wonder if I’d be foregoing a benefit that is exclusive to flax?

  10. ChrisF Says:

    Speaking for myself, I find the taste of flaxseed oil quite noxious. I assume that’s why Seth uses a noseclip. Best consumption method for me is two tablespoons in a glass, a blast of faucet water and a fast chug.

    My gums have not noticeably improved, despite morning and evening consumption. I ordered my oil from Amazon but have left it sitting on the counter. Should it be refrigerated? Is there noticeable quality variation across brands?

  11. Seth Roberts Says:

    Mike, why was Chinese flaxseed oil not helping? Because it was poorly processed. Probably was at room temperature too long. ChrisF, flaxseed oil needs to be refrigerated to slow down deterioration. I wouldn’t buy it from Amazon because it is mailed without refrigeration. I haven’t noticed quality differences across brands.

    Annie, hemp seed oil has much less omega-3 per ml than flaxseed oil. So it won’t work as well. Even with flaxseed oil, I had to drink a lot to get the best effect. I am unaware of a benefit specific to flax. Since we get lots of omega-6 in our diet, e.g., from nuts, I never try to get more in one particular food. You are more likely to be getting too much omega-6 than too little, in my opinion.

    Jen, yes, I think fish oil would have the same effect.

  12. ab Says:

    I have talked to ‘older’ people, who say that when they were growing up they would have a teaspoon of cod liver oil every morning (and that it tasted terrible – I can confirm that part).

    So it seems like we had the implicit information in significant parts of our society that omega-3′s (cod liver oil is high in omega-3′s) were important.

  13. bjk Says:

    I’ve found the fermented cod liver oil the best delivery vehicle for omega3s. It’s also important to consume the paste (chocolate and FCLO) more than once a day. Once a day usually didn’t do the trick. Using the FCLO, I’ve reduced the acne on my face by about 75% (this is in conjunction with reducing my vegetable oil/omega6 consumption by about 90%). Significantly, my face doesn’t feel irritated to the touch anymore, and it has a nice soft feel . . . I can shave without wincing. The FCLO was better than ordinary CLO, flaxseed oil, and sardines, all of which I tried, in order of increasing effectiveness. The dermatologist I visited recently said he’d never heard the vegetable oil -> acne theory before. It makes sense, though.

  14. Dustin Mattison Says:

    Clary sage is a unique omega 3 source that is the most stable! Clary sage is the world’s most stable natural source of Omega-3. In comparison, flax oil is oxidized in 20 minutes at room temperature, while clary sage oil remains intact under similar conditions for 2 years.
    http://ecochicagoland.com/2010/07/clary-sage-seeds-as-a-unique-omega3-source/

  15. Susie Says:

    It does make sense that, as an inti-inflammatory, omega-3s might help with gingivitis. Try consuming Gudernoobs made by WooHoo Foods. The walnuts and flax are what make it high in omega-3s. They are tasty treats – you’d never guess you are eating health food! No additives or preservatives either.

  16. Nathan Myers Says:

    I can’t tell if the last posting is a joke, and that by itself makes it funny. The copious “oo” sounds help too.

  17. Kirsten Says:

    @bjk: I’ve found something similar just from regular cod liver oil.

    I started taking that, combined with Vitamin D, after reading on the Cooling Inflammation blog that flushing associated with rosacea is caused by inflammation similar to Alzheimers (he called it Alzheimers of the face) and can be treated with increased amounts of D. (Summary written quickly and maybe not totally accurate.)

    With chewable Carlson’s D, and then D + Carlson’s CL oil (which also has D) My flushing disappeared almost overnight. Also, while previous attention to gut bacteria (though diet and supplementation) had mostly taken care of my acne, the oil took it the rest of the way–and helped to get rid of that irritated feeling you mention. For a while, it felt like anything on my face–fingers, the ends of my hair, moisturizer–would irritate my skin and cause a breakout. Now, nothing seems to. And on the rare occasions when I do break out, it clears up right away.

    And Seth: My gums got pinker and pinker (as opposed to red) with this supplementation, which worried me (I thought maybe I was making myself anemic or something) until I read–I think on your blog–that red gums signal inflammation while pink gums are nice and cooled down.

  18. TalkingRat Says:

    From The Omega Diet (Artemis Simopolous, M.D.) has a chapter on omega-3 and the immune system, including a paragraph on its use to reduce gingivitis.
    She cites a French study where half the subjects got 1.8g EPA plus DHA supplements or olive oil supplements, the other half got olive oil supplements. They were told to practice “intensive” oral hygiene for two weeks and then were told not to brush or floss for 3 weeks. The omega-3 showed less sign of gingivitis.

    The citation:
    Campan, P., P. O. Planchand, and D. Duran. Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of experimental human gingivitis. Bull Group Int Rech Sci Stomatol Odontol, 1996; 29(1-2):25-31.

    Both this book and Dr. Andrew Stoll’s (The Omega-3 Connection) mention that omega-3′s benefits for the immune system came from a study of the Greenland Eskimos in the 1970s.

    The first book is mostly a food book, the second is more about fishoil in improving brain health, esp. depression (Stoll does research in Psychopharmacology).

    My note: high quality extra virgin olive oil has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

  19. Sarah Schatz - Allergy-Free & GAPS Menu Planners Says:

    This is very interesting. Thanks for posting this. I take flax seed oil along with fish oils and cod liver oil, but didn’t know it was helping my gums. However at my last dentist visit, it was much less painful for the dentist to probe my gums, so I think that says a lot right there.

  20. Debra Says:

    I’ve just started looking into the SLD and the oil thing. Can’t you take the flaxseed oil in capsule format?

  21. Dentist in Los Angeles Says:

    I have been using borage oil, for omega3s, does it work the same as flaxseed oil improving you gums?

  22. Terrence Tormey Says:

    This makes sense. About half of all Americans suffer from inflammatory gum disease.
    Omega-3s in sufficient dose have an anti-inflammatory response. But note a couple of points here, flax-seed oil is a poor source of omega-3, especially when compared to omega-3 from fish oil. Note too, most store bought fish oil capsules actually contain little onega-3! Only 25 -30% of the contents of the fish oil capsule is actually omega-3. Most of the content is filler, like saturated fats, or omega-6, which is pro-inflammatory. There is also evidence that the ratio of EPA to DHA has an effect on the anti-inflammatory activity. I have seen research done at a major teaching hospital that shows that there is an optimal ratio of EPA to DHA that shows a true anti-inflammatory response. It is only found in a product called OMAX3.

  23. Mrs Wagtails Says:

    I have read all your comments with interest. I have today started taking Golden Flaxseed Oil. Help! It’s making me feel like I want to throw up. Any suggestions? I tried a grape straight after which helped a bit.