Research has revealed that over 50% of adults in the UK and US suffer from gum disease. Common remedies include mouthwash and antibiotics, which unfortunately come with side effects, including dry mouth, antimicrobial resistance, and elevated blood pressure. However, a molecule named nitrate, abundant in leafy green vegetables, could serve as a natural alternative with fewer side effects and enhanced oral health benefits.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to a build-up of dental plaque, a sticky bacteria layer on teeth and gums, causing tooth decay and gum disease. Factors such as sugary and acidic foods, dry mouth, and smoking can exacerbate these conditions.
Leafy greens and root vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Nitrate, abundant in spinach, lettuce, and beetroots, can be converted to nitric oxide by oral bacteria. Nitric oxide is known to lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance. In the oral context, it prevents the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and reduces oral acidity, preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Therefore, nitrate could be a promising oral health prebiotic.
In the UK, chlorhexidine-containing antiseptic mouthwashes are commonly used to treat dental plaque and gum disease. However, these mouthwashes indiscriminately remove both good and bad bacteria and increase oral acidity, potentially causing disease. On the other hand, a diet rich in nitrate could be the key to a healthier body, a vibrant smile, and disease-free gums.
As a rule of thumb, a generous serving of spinach, kale, or beetroot at meals, containing about 6-10 mmol of nitrate, offers immediate health benefits. For instance, consuming lettuce juice for two weeks reduced gum inflammation and increased healthy bacteria levels in patients with gum disease, suggesting that nitrate is a cornerstone of oral health.