Whether taken black, iced, creamed, sugared or mashed up in a blender with an array of Starbucks syrups, coffee is an unstoppable sensation that may just keep thriving thanks to a recently published study in the August issue of the Journal of Periodontology. A bitter cup of brew can be a student’s best friend, and apparently, a gum line’s chum, too.
Researchers at Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine have found that coffee, which contains antioxidants, can help fight gum disease, also known as periodontal disease.
Gum disease can cause tooth loss, gum inflammation and damage to the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
“[We were] interested in understanding whether or not coffee drinking was good or bad for people’s gum health,” said Dr. Raul Garcia, a senior author of the study and director of the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities.
Garcia said the study was prompted when its lead author, Nathan Ng, noticed just how much coffee he and his fellow colleagues were drinking. One thing led to another and Ng soon became interested in the association between coffee consumption and gum health.
Data concerning 1,152 adult males from the Greater Boston area was collected in the long-term oral health and aging Veterans Affairs Dental Longitudinal Study. Specifically, the researchers looked at dental records of visits from 1968 to 1998.
“In the cohort, [they] were sort of divided into those who had basically, on-average…consumed less than one cup of coffee per day versus those guys who consumed more than one cup of coffee per day,” Garcia said. “It was more sort of…comparing the lighter coffee drinkers from the heavier coffee drinkers.”
After taking all of the data into consideration, Ng and his team found that coffee consumption had no adverse effects on gum health. On the contrary, it was possibly beneficial to fighting off gum disease.
The published study mentions that, “higher coffee consumption was associated with a small but significant reduction in number of teeth with periodontal bone loss.”
“What we [found] was…no harm and possibly some very small modest benefit from protecting against the loss of jawbone around teeth,” Garcia said. “In my knowledge on what we know and what we found, the only thing I think that goes as far as harm is a cosmetic or aesthetic problem.”
Although these “pro-coffee” findings are far from drastic, they do shed some light on daily coffee consumption.
“As a college student, I think I drink more coffee than I have before,” said Lauren Jones, a sophomore in the College of General Studies. “So it’s interesting to hear something kind of for it. It’s nice to hear that it’s not completely awful to me.”
Still, Garcia warned against students justifying their current habits based on just one study.
“Basically, take the findings with a grain of salt,” he said. “Don’t rely on the result of this one study. Don’t change your behavior based on the result of one study…Over time, findings will either get replicated and supported, or over time, they’ll get contradicted and discounted.”
Garcia said he hopes he and the researchers will continue their investigation in pursuit of more questions such as how coffee affects women, its effects on people from differing geographies and the reason for its slightly protective quality.
“It would be really valuable to look at the similar relationship in women in other populations around the U.S. and populations outside of the U.S. to see whether the same sort of association is replicated in other population types in other geographic settings,” he said.
Some BU students said they are curious about what other health benefits could be lurking in their coffee cups.
“I would kind of like to know,” Jones said. “Overall, is coffee better for your health or worse?”