Bleeding gums are the earliest sign of gum disease and are a sign that all is not well with your immune system.

If you have bleeding gums, it often is an indication of inadequate oral hygiene, but more likely than not, it is also your body telling you that your blood sugars are too high! Did you know that sugar suppresses your immune system?

Eating or drinking too much sugar suppresses your immune system cells that would normally be attacking and destroying bad bacteria and viruses. That's why diabetics, for example, have more infections. Diabetes is also a condition that in particular is associated with a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

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Suppression of the immune system starts as soon as 30 minutes after the consumption of sugar and can last up to five hours. Your white blood cells are highly affected by sugar and their “killing” ability is greatly reduced. One teaspoon of sugar suppresses the immune system for 4-5 hrs.

To live healthier, longer, and stronger lives, we need to move more and eat better. This means getting fewer calories from added sugars. The World Health Organization recommends that you should get no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugar each day. For example, in a 2,000 daily calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars. Another way to look at that amount is to limit your sugar intake to NO MORE than SIXteaspoons, or 25 grams total.

Just to give you the context of how 25 grams of sugar can add up:

  • One can of Coca Cola has about 8 teaspoons of sugar
  • A low-fat, sweetened yogurt has 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • Canned Baked Beans has 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • Orange juice has 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • Energy drinks have 7 teaspoons of sugar

When you eat sugar, you set off a series of metabolic pathways that push the body to use more of its resources. We now know that high levels of sugar/glucose inhibit Vitamin C from entering our cells and decrease the absorption rates, which means that vitamin C is draining out of your body! The higher your carbohydrate and sugar consumption, the more Vitamin C your body needs! The fewer carbohydrates and sugar you include in your body, the less Vitamin C you need.

Sugar drains your body of key nutrients. Did you know that? Dietary guidelines today correctly recommend decreasing intake of high-sugar foods. But do you know that you should also decrease the frequency of consumption of starch-containing foods as well?

Here are some starch-containing foods:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Noodles
  • Refined breakfast cereals
  • Confectionery and cake

Did you know white bread and white rice are associated with decay? High-frequency consumption of sugar and starch-containing foods is the principal aetiological factor for both dental caries and presentation of children and young people with increased risk of obesity.

By eating a well-balanced diet by keeping your sugar consumption to ZERO or very low, your immune system will be stronger and have a better chance to function properly and optimally, keeping you from getting sick. So to decrease blood sugars you can replace sweet or high carbohydrate foods with foods higher in whole-saturated fats like: butter/ghee, eggs, coconut oil, fatty cuts of meat, oily fish and avocado.

Here is some simple steps to follow for a healthy DENTAL diet:

1. Reduce all sugar.

You knew sugar rots your teeth, but did you know it also weakens your bones? Sugar disrupts calcium metabolism in the body. It challenges the body for nutrients that place calcium into bones.

2. Reduce all simple/refined carbohydrates including white flour.

Why? Increased blood sugar weakens your body’s ability to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

3. Boost your fat-soluble vitamin intake

It is needed for vision, healthy skin and mucous membranes, bone and tooth growth and immune system health.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's cells and are not excreted as easily as water-soluble vitamins. They do not need to be consumed as often as water-soluble vitamins, although adequate amounts are needed. A balanced diet usually provides enough fat-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin A: beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, pumpkins, spinach

Vitamin D: fatty fish

Vitamin E: leafy green vegetables, nuts

Vitamin K: Cabbage, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli

4. Increase sunlight exposure

Adequate Vitamin D is key! You can read my article on “Essential Vitamins for Healthy Teeth” here to know further details.

And while they aren't part of a food group, tobacco products can also compromise your immune system and should be avoided.

So, to go the extra mile in ensuring you do have a strong immune system, you should not only pay attention to good oral health habits, but make sure you follow a good dental diet by monitoring and decreasing your sugar intake. One simple change can make a huge difference!

Visit a dentist and dental hygienist to prevent the decay of your teeth and maintain a healthy dental routine with a healthy lifestyle, affecting one another. I would love to help provide guidance on easy healthy habits to get into and effective steps towards healthier dental care.

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Dulene Swanepoel
General Dentist (South Africa)