Cooler weather, colorful leaves, and warm drinks around a fire are some of the indications that autumn has arrived, but none are more emblematic than the appearance of pumpkin-inspired treats and décor over-flowing from store shelves. Many sweet treats that come to mind may not strike you as dental hygiene-friendly, but the pumpkin is surprisingly good for your oral health when done right.
Pumpkin is an annual vining or trailing plant that can be cultivated from sea level to high altitudes.7 Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca highlands of Mexico. Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago and were among the first crops grown in North America for human consumption.1
The original pumpkin was small and hard with a bitter flavor. Pre-Columbian natives grew pumpkin and mainly ate the flesh, which was stored well for cold weather and food shortages due to its thickness.1
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin contains phytoconstituents from the categories of alkaloids, flavonoids, and palmitic, oleic, and linoleic acids. Research has found that pumpkin has antidiabetic, anticarcinogenic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.7
Immunity − Pumpkin oil can help to fight fungal, viral, and bacterial infections. It may help to recover from a cold more quickly due to zinc content.3
Weight loss − Pumpkin is rich in fiber, which slows digestion and helps to feel full longer. It is low-calorie and 90% water, helping to keep you hydrated. There are 7g of fiber in one cup of canned pumpkin.3
Eye health − The bright orange of pumpkin comes from the beta-carotene they contain. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A which is essential to retina health.3
Cancer − Beta-carotene in pumpkin has been linked to reduced cancer risk, especially with prostate cancer.7
Diabetes − Adding pumpkin to a diabetic diet has been shown to increase serum insulin levels, decrease blood glucose, and improve glucose tolerance.
Oral Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Each part of a pumpkin is edible, the green leaves, seeds, and flesh. Pumpkins are full of nutrients that are essential to oral health.
Iron − Found in pumpkin seeds, iron helps to prevent anemia, which can damage oral tissues. Iron also helps to keep the tongue and gums healthy.5
Magnesium − Works together with calcium to create strong, decay-resistant tooth enamel.1
Vitamin C − Helps to fight infection and inflammation in gingival tissue.2,5
Vitamin A − Helps maintain gingival health and flow of saliva which is key for washing bacteria from the mouth.2,5
Zinc − Plays a part in periodontal ligament health and healing of damaged soft tissue from gingivitis. Zinc is also added to toothpaste as an anti-plaque ingredient.2,5
Fiber − Helps to stimulate saliva, which is the best natural defense against tooth decay.
A Promising Treatment for Aphthous Stomatitis
Recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) affects 20% of the world’s population. Minor ulcers account for 80% of recurrent aphthous stomatitis cases. These ulcers are less than 1 cm in diameter and usually heal within two weeks without scarring. Major ulcers occur in 10% of cases and measure 1 cm or more in diameter. Major ulcers take 10 to 40 days to heal and may leave scars. The last 10% of cases are herpetiform ulcers that are clusters of dozens of smaller ulcers.4
A more recent pumpkin application for oral health comes from a 2017 study on the efficacy of pumpkin seed oil in healing and preventing the recurrence of RAS. The study’s inclusion criteria were patients with recurrent aphthous stomatitis in early-onset ulceration (less than three days duration). They had little or no benefit obtained from other conventional therapy in previous attacks. Patients could not use any other treatment during the study and had not used another treatment in the past two months.4
The diagnosis of recurrent aphthous stomatitis was based on history and clinical examination. History was obtained regarding age, gender, occupation, history of disease, the recurrence rate, their general health, and previous medical history. Aggravating factors were included in the assessment, such as food, stress, trauma, and smoking or associated symptoms. All patients were fully examined regarding shape, size, and number of lesions.4
Participants applied the 100% pumpkin seed oil twice a day for three months topically. Four days after beginning treatment, 79.3% of patients saw improvement in size and healing, and that number increased to 94.38% after eight days. The prevention of RAS following the last treatment lasted up to an additional three months for all 25 participants. No local or systemic side effects were reported. Pumpkin seed oil was found to be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant properties with comparable effects to more common treatment options such as 5% lactic acid mouth wash.4
One of the most popular inspirations behind the renewed interest in pumpkin was the introduction of the pumpkin spice latte in 2003. However, the top three pumpkin spice lattes contain 240 to 340 calories and between 22g to 52g of sugar in each cup.6
The oral health benefits of pumpkin definitely depend on the preparation. Try these recipes for pumpkin hummus, healthy whole wheat pumpkin pancakes made with egg whites and sugar-free syrup, or try mixing up a healthy version of a pumpkin spice latte at home with honey as a low-sugar substitute for sugar.
Remember that all parts of a pumpkin are edible, and pumpkin seeds, in particular, are a vitamin-packed snack. Let those orange, carved toothy grins you see this season be a reminder of the many oral health benefits of pumpkin!
Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:
- Avey, T. (2014, November 25). History of Pumpkins & Recipe Round-Up. PBS Food. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-pumpkins-recipes/#:~:text=Archaeologists%20discovered%20the%20oldest%20domesticated.
- Leavitt, S.T. (2016, September 13). Oral Health Benefits of Pumpkin. University Square Dental Associates. Retrieved from https://www.universitysquaredental.com/blog/oral-health-benefits-of-pumpkin/.
- Obenschain, C. (2014, October 21). 6 surprising health benefits of pumpkins. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2014/10/21/health/health-benefits-of-pumpkin/index.html.
- Sharquie, K., Noaimi, A. Latif, T. Treatment of Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis by 100% Topical Pumpkin Seed Oil. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. 2017; 7: 324-335. doi: 10.4236/jcdsa.2017.74029.
- The Oral Health Benefits of Pumpkin. (2017, October 1). Delta Dental of Illinois. Retrieved from https://www.deltadentalil.com/your-health/general-oral-health/blog-pumpkin/.
- Which Pumpkin Spice Latte is best for your oral (and overall) health? (n.d.). Quip. Retrieved from https://www.getquip.com/blog/pumpkin-spice-latte-healthy-or-not/.
- Yadav, M., Jain, S., Tomar, R., Prasad, G.B., Yadav, H. Medicinal and biological potential of pumpkin: an updated review. Nutr Res Rev. 2010 Dec; 23(2): 184-90. doi: 10.1017/S0954422410000107. PMID: 21110905.