John C. Chao, DDS, MAGD

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry USC

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John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Anxiety Management,
Behavior Science,
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry

Cod Liver Oil Is Good For Your Teeth And Gum, So Said The American Dental Association In 1931

2010 is the 80TH anniversary of the founding of the Council on Dental Therapeutics by the American Dental Association (ADA) to oversee the evaluation of dental products.   The Council on Dental Therapeutics awarded the first Seal of Approval, in 1931, to a brand of cod liver oil as a food supplement to promote strong teeth and healthy gums.  Now 80 years later much more is known about cod liver oil.  And practically all of it is good.  According to Dr. George Griffing, Professor of Medicine at the St. Louis University and Editor in Chief of Internal Medicine for eMedicine, cod liver oil contains large amounts of vitamins A, D, and omega-3-fatty acids, and the health benefits may go beyond rheumatism and rickets.  Vitamin A is essential for the immune system, bone growth, night vision, cellular growth, testicular and ovarian function, according to Dr. Griffing.  Furthermore Vitamin D may prevent type I diabetes, hypertension, and many common cancers.

Besides omega 3- fatty acids (O3FA), cod liver oil also contains EPA and DHA (eicosopentanoic acid and decosahexaenoic acid).  O3FA was shown in one study to reduce rate of mortality and sudden death while another study suggested that there was a step-wise reduction in sudden death based on levels of O3FA, according to Dr. Griffing.  The mechanism by which O3FA, DHA and EPA bring about these benefits is speculated to be a reduction in triglycerides and increase in HDL (good cholesterol).  The data is so strong that European and American cardiac societies have incorporated EPA and DHA into their recent guidelines for cardiac disease.

Vitamin A benefits the immune system and bone growth and therefore may be the mechanism by which this vitamin ameliorates periodontitis, a bacteriogical-inflammatory process that destroys bone and gum supporting the teeth. Periodontitis is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults.  Vitamin D is needed for calcium metabolism and growth and development of baby and permanent teeth.

It is interesting that the American Dental Association endorsed the use of cod liver oil for oral health some 80 years ago.  Of course now we know that oral health is indispensable to systemic health.  This column has talked extensively about the close association between gum disease and other systemic disorders, such as hypertension, diabetes and pregnancy problems (pre-term and low-weight babies).  It is also fascinating to speculate how much healthier Americans would be today if they had been taking cod liver oil for the last 80 years.  It would not be overly speculative to say that they would be healthier both orally and generally speaking.

Cod liver oil is not for everyone, however.  Cod liver oil is probably best avoided by pregnant women, asthmatics and people taking anticoagulants such as warfarin, according to Dr. Griffin.  If you have any medical condition, consult your physician before you add cod liver oil as a food supplement.

See your dentist regularly.  This is still your best bet to keep your smile healthy.  Discuss with your dentist whether cod liver oil (available now in a tasteless capsule) or any other supplement is recommended for your particular situation.


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