Are Bleeding Gums a Form of Scurvy?

woman_teethConsuming two grapefruits daily for only two weeks substantially reduced bleeding in the gums of 38 patients with chronic periodontal disease, according to a German study.

Back in the 18th century, sailors discovered that during long trips at sea they could prevent loose teeth and bleeding gums by eating limes. These symptoms were later identified as signs of scurvy, a vitamin C-deficiency disease. (Limes and other citrus fruits are high in vitamin C.)

Why would vitamin C deficiency cause loose teeth and bleeding gums? Because vitamin C is critical to collagen synthesis, and collagen is needed in building healthy tissues, from periodontal ligaments to bone matrix to blood vessel walls. Vitamin C also protects tissues as an antioxidant.

Today, extremely low plasma levels of vitamin C are considered “scorbutic” – that is “producing scurvy.” However vitamin C levels that are just a bit higher are associated with periodontitis, a disease of the tooth socket that includes swelling, reddening and bleeding gums that gradually recede, accompanied by loss of soft and bone tissue and progressively looser teeth.

In the above study, for example, the 38 patients’ C levels before the grapefruit treatment were in the “undersupplied” range. However, when vitamin C levels were assessed on a group of 22 subjects who were free from gum problems, they averaged well into the range considered “optimal.”

The patients with periodontitis, however, were able to bring their average vitamin C levels into just above “optimal” in two weeks by eating two whole grapefruits a day. This was linked with a statistically significant decrease in bleeding gums in those who were non-smokers, and an impressive decrease in gum bleeding in the smokers as well.

Commenting on the above study, Dr. Alan Gaby, who writes for the Townsend Letter, observed that studies using vitamin C and flavonoids like quercetin, which work synergistically with vitamin C, have been even better at maintaining gingival health than studies using vitamin C alone. So next time you include grapefruit in a blended drink, try to include the white matter just below the hard outer rind. Although it’s not particularly tasty, it contains a wealth of healthy flavonoids—quercetin and others.

Although periodontal disease has also been linked with other factors, such as weakened immunity, low vitamin D status and a lack of CoQ10, getting enough vitamin C is a critical component in supporting good gum health. Supplementing with Beyond Health’s Vitamin C and quercitin-containing Cell Repair Formula is recommended for most people.


  1. Staudte H. Grapefruit consumption improves vitamin C status in periodontitis patients. British Dental Journal. August 2005;199(4):213-217.
  2. Gaby A. Grapefruit for periodontal disease. Townsend Letter. December 2006, pp. 50-51.
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