Medical researchers have long known that Vitamin D has many oral and overall health benefits, but there is growingconcern that deficiency of this critical nutrient is more common than once thought. Understanding the benefits of Vitamin D, where it comes from and who is at risk for deficiency could make an important difference in your general and oral health.
Somewhere along the way you can probably remember being told to have plenty of calcium in your diet to build strong bones and teeth… mothers admonish their children, and doctors advise pregnant mothers about the importance of getting adequate calcium. Fortunately calcium is everywhere – readily available in many of the foods we all love like milk, cheese, ice cream and even commercially added to orange juice, breads and cereals. Perhaps you didn’t know that without Vitamin D, the body can’t absorb that calcium… no matter how much of it you swallow!
According to a Canadian study, only about 10% of women in their second trimester of pregnancy had adequate Vitamin D levels, a phenomenon which was correlated the frequency of milk and prenatal vitamin consumption. Babies born to women with low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy may be at increased risk for tooth enamel defects and therefore, early childhood tooth decay. A diet lacking or low in vitamin D will contribute to a phenomena known as “ burning mouth syndrome”, symptoms of which can include dry mouth, a burning sensation of the tongue and oral tissues and a metallic or bitter taste. The condition is most common in older adults who, coincidentally, are frequently found to have a Vitamin D deficiency! Oral Health scientists have found that in addition to many general health benefits, Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which is widely known to have a direct impact on the development and severity of periodontal (gum and bone) disease. As a matter of fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Dentistry1 among 6700 research participants, those who had the highest blood levels of Vitamin D were about 20% less likely to have gum disease. Since more than half the people in the country have some form of gum disease, which may be a very good reason to drink your milk!
Vitamin D is produced naturally by the human body when skin is exposed to sunlight, but more often than not people choose to protect themselves from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen and protective clothing may prevent getting enough vitamin D from the sun; and deficiency is common among people who live in northern latitudes or otherareas that receive limited sunlight. Up to 50% of older adults have inadequate Vitamin D levels, perhaps partly due to decreased outdoor activity and sun exposure; and African Americans of all ages produce less Vitamin D, probably due to the darker color of their skin.
Although it is a rule of thumb that the best source of nutrients is a natural one, Vitamin D supplements are readily available over the counter and routinely recommended to individuals at risk for deficiency. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that Vitamin D drops be given to breast-fed infants, because breast milk usually has low levels of vitamin D. Do you have unexplained body or mouth symptoms? Could you be at risk … or have you been recently diagnosed with low Vitamin D levels? Your doctor and dental professional can advise you about the benefits of a supplement, and a recent discovery of Vitamin D deficiency is a good reason to schedule your regular dental checkup.
1. Journal of Dentistry (2005), 33:703–10.