Gum disease is a common condition occurring in adults that causes the gum to become inflamed due to bacteria-containing plaque on the teeth. In severe cases, gum disease calls for antibiotics. But new research shows that wild blueberry extract may help prevent the onset of dental plaque.
The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, may lead to new therapies for gum disease and could even reduce the need for antibiotics.
When an individual has plaque accumulation, the gums get red and swollen and bleed easily, a condition known as gingivitis. If left untreated, this can lead to gum or periodontal disease. The plaque becomes hard and turns into tartar, and the infection spreads below the gum line, destroying the tissues that support the teeth.
In hopes of treating the condition, a dentist will scrape off the tartar. Sometimes, they have to resort to using antibiotics to treat the infection.
Lead researcher Daniel Grenier, a professor from the Université Laval, Quebec City, QC, Canada, and his team were interested in investigating a range of natural antibacterial compounds to treat gum disease. They began looking to see if the polyphenol compounds in blueberries, which are known to protect the plant from disease, could help stop hinder the development of the plaque.
“Blueberries contain significant amounts of flavonoids to which a number of beneficial health effects in humans have been associated,” the study said.
They used extracts from the Vaccinium angustifolium variety of wild lowbush blueberry and tested it against Fusobacterium nucleatum, one of the main species of bacteria associated with periodontal disease.
Laboratory tests showed that the polyphenolic compounds were successful in not only preventing the growth of F. nucleatum, but also preventing the growth of the bacterial plaque. The extract also helped block a molecular pathway that is responsible for inflammation in the gums.
“This dual antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action of lowbush blueberry polyphenols suggests that they may be promising candidates for novel therapeutic agents.”
The research team is in the process of developing an oral device that slowly releases the extract after a deep cleaning to help treat gum disease.
According to the CDC, 47.2 percent of American adults aged 30 and over have some form of periodontal disease. Once tartar goes below the gum line, only a dental health professional can remove the tartar and stop the gum disease process.
Dental health is not the only researched benefit of blueberries. After a systematic review of the global scientific literature, the American Institute for Cancer Research weighed the strength of the evidence linking dietary fiber and vitamin C to lower risk for several cancers, including colon, mouth, lung, stomach, and esophagus cancer.
Blueberries have also been found to lower cardiovascular risk factors and inflammation, and improve metabolic syndrome in obese men and women over a period of 8 weeks according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Blueberry polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, have been associated with increased neuronal signaling in the brain centers. They mediate memory function as well improve glucose disposal, benefits that are expected to lower the risk of neurodegeneration.
Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that blueberry supplementation can help improve memory in older adults, lower their glucose levels, and help reduce incidence of depression.