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Vitamin C isn’t just about supporting your immune system – it could help boost your smile and gum health too.
Vitamin C has several roles in the body, from helping to protect our cells to reducing fatigue. But scientists now think it also plays an important role in our dental health, particularly looking after our gums.
Our bodies need vitamin C to make collagen, an important protein found in the skin, blood, bones and muscles, and which is essential for wound-healing.1
Our immune system is vital for fighting against infection and disease. Vitamin C supports the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant – helping to protect our cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals.2
As vitamin C is water-soluble, we can’t store it in our bodies so must get it from our diets or in a supplement every day.3
Your gums are made up of a firm connective tissue which attaches your teeth to the bones of your jaw. You might not think about them much, but your gums have several important functions.
These include providing a seal around your teeth, which protects them from harmful bacteria, as well as holding your teeth firmly in place and absorbing shock, which enables you to bite and chew food.
When healthy, your gums should have a moist, pink appearance and shouldn’t cause you any pain or bleed when you brush. However, many of us are affected by gum disease, which ranges from mild (known as gingivitis) to more serious (known as periodontitis). According to the NHS, most adults in the UK are affected by gum disease to some degree.4
Gum disease is caused by a build-up of bacteria on the tooth’s surface, which causes plaque. Plaque is a sticky substance which traps acids and more bacteria on your teeth, which causes inflammation, bleeding and soreness at the gum line.
If left untreated, plaque can harden into tartar, which also traps bacteria on your teeth and gums, but is harder to get rid of and likely to cause periodontitis. This is when the build-up of harmful bacteria and toxins in your mouth can slowly destroy the gum tissues surrounding the teeth. Periodontitis leads to receding gums, loose teeth and even tooth loss.
Experts think vitamin C is an important weapon in the fight against gum disease. A study published in Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology in 2003 found that patients with a common type of gum disease called periodontitis also had lower levels of vitamin C in their blood.5
Periodontitis is a serious inflammation of the gums. It affects the tissues that surround the teeth, and if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss.6
A lack of vitamin C isn’t involved in the development of the disease, but it’s thought that our bodies need extra vitamin C when we get ill and for tissue repair. So getting enough of the nutrient may help your gums defend themselves and recover faster.7
Handpicked content: Easy ways to keep your gums healthy
Scurvy is very rare in the UK these days but can occur as a result of a severe vitamin C deficiency, seriously affecting collagen production.
Like periodontitis, scurvy also causes gum disease and tooth loss, but it’s different from periodontitis which is caused by bacteria.
Don’t worry too much if you’re displaying the early stages of gum disease as it’s not uncommon. The correct oral hygiene and vitamin C intake can help you bring your gums back to optimum health. Good sources of vitamin C include peppers, broccoli, kiwi fruit, orange and pineapple.
If you don’t get enough vitamin C over several months, you become at risk of scurvy – an illness that was once common on 19th-century sailors.
Symptoms of scurvy include bleeding, swollen gums, and loosened teeth.8,9,10 Other signs are tiredness, poor wound healing, red or purple spots on the skin, and joint pain.
The good news is scurvy is very rare today, and if you’re eating a healthy balanced diet, you should be getting enough vitamin C.11
Help your gums by eating more vitamin C. The following fruits and vegetables are all rich in this important nutrient:12
Last updated: 18 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.