Bleeding gums may be a sign of vitamin C deficiency

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vitamin C deficiency
Photo: Marco Herrndorff – 123rf

The current thinking is that if your gums bleed, it could be a sign of gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease. And that might be true. However, new research from the US suggests you should also check your intake of vitamin C.

In a study published in Nutrition Reviews, a team from the University of Washington School of Dentistry analysed the published studies of 15 clinical trials in six countries, involving 1,140 predominantly healthy participants, and data from 8,210 US residents surveyed in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 

The results showed that bleeding of the gums on gentle probing, or gingival bleeding tendency, and also bleeding in the eye, or retinal hemorrhaging, were associated with low vitamin C levels in the bloodstream. 

Moreoever, the researchers found that increasing daily intake of vitamin C in those people with low vitamin C plasma levels helped to reverse these bleeding issues.

Of potential relevance, both a gum bleeding tendency and retinal bleeding could be a sign of general trouble in one’s microvascular system, of a microvascular bleeding tendency in the brain, heart and kidneys.

The study does not imply that successful reversing of an increased gingival bleeding tendency with vitamin C will prevent strokes or other serious health outcomes. However, the results do suggest that vitamin C recommendations designed primarily to protect against scurvy—a deadly disease caused by extremely low vitamin C levels—are too low, and that such a low vitamin C intake can lead to a bleeding tendency, which should not be treated with dental floss.

Consequently, it is recommended people attempt to keep an eye on their vitamin C intake through incorporation of non-processed foods such as kale, peppers or kiwis into their diet, or consider a supplement of about 100 to 200 milligrams a day.

The study authors write: “A default prescription of oral hygiene and other periodontal interventions to ‘treat’ microvascular pathologies, even if partially effective in reversing gingival bleeding as suggested in this meta-analysis, is risky because it does not address any potential morbidity and mortality associated with the systemic microvascular-related pathologies.”

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