Is Vitamin D Just as Important for Oral Health as Brushing and Flossing?
We often hear that vitamin D is important for building up strong and healthy bones for our children. So, it is surprising that we don’t often hear about how important vitamin D is for helping our children have healthy teeth! In fact, pregnant women who increase their vitamin D intake give their children a better chance of fewer cavities and stronger bones. Beyond that, proper intake of vitamin D from childhood all the way into adulthood reduces the risk of decay and cavities and promotes great oral health, from the inside out.
How does Vitamin D keep teeth strong and mineralized?
Vitamin D works with calcium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals to keep teeth and bones healthy. Vitamin D’s primary job is to facilitate the absorption of calcium and phosphate, which make up bony structure. This helps keep bones dense and strong.
New studies have also linked vitamin D to our health in new other ways. Vitamin D may potentially have anti-inflammatory properties, helping the body produce anti-microbial amino acids. These anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties can fight against some of the root causes of tooth decay and gum disease, which is vital for oral health.
Other hypotheses have also linked vitamin D to the immune system. Underneath the enamel surface of the tooth is dentin, which contains cells that act as part of the immune system. If dentin becomes damaged due to decay, these immune cells can work to repair it, but only if the body has sufficient vitamin D levels.
It follows then that there is a very strong and important correlation between proper vitamin D intake and overall oral health. It is associated with improved tooth development in children and better formation of dentin and long-term dentin health. It also helps strengthen enamel health through promoting healthier and more balanced saliva, and can even produce similar topical protection to tooth enamel just like fluoride does! Additionally, in patients who have periodontitis, improving vitamin D deficiency contributes to successful treatment and oral health improvement.
Last but not least, it promotes whole-body immunity. Vitamin D is incredibly important to keep us and our children healthy and well. So, given that vitamin D is so important to our health, it is concerning to hear that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent worldwide.
How to Make Sure Your Family Is Getting Enough Vitamin D
Sunshine Is A Great Source
Sunshine is a great way to get vitamin D, though there are some stipulations. Most people can get their needs met through their skin absorbing sunlight and converting it to vitamin D. While it varies based on location and individual needs and melanin levels, at least 10-15 minutes in the sun between 10 am-4 pm a few times a week is enough. However, factors like the importance of sunscreen and location make a difference. Luckily, those of us living in sunny Phoenix don’t need to worry about location affecting our body’s ability to take in the sun. However, it may be different for anyone located above the 37th parallel, which runs across the middle of the US, above the borders of Arizona, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. While the summer months may provide sufficient sunlight, the skin may not actually make any vitamin D from the sun for the rest of the year for those living in the northern half of the United States. This creates a much greater need for vitamin D from other sources.
Sources of Vitamin D in our Diet
While there aren’t many good sources of vitamin D that occur naturally in the foods we eat, there are still a few that are notable. If sunshine isn’t a viable option for your family, you’ll want to aim to provide enough through their diet. Recommended daily amounts are:
- 400 IU (International Units) for babies under one year.
- 600-1000 IU for children and teens.
- 800-1000 IU for adults.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are some of the best choices at 360-200 IU for 3.5 ounces! Any type of milk that is fortified (including alternative milks such as soy, almond, or oat) is another good source. Other dairy products also provide vitamin D, including fortified yogurt and certain cheeses like Fontina, Muenster, and Monterey. Other options include egg yolks, pork or beef deli meat, and pork cuts. Mushrooms that were exposed to UV-B light (either natural sunshine or artificially as part of the growing process) can also provide vitamin D.
Fortified cereals and orange juice do contain vitamin D and can be a part of your weekly vitamin D intake. However, because of their high sugar content and relatively low vitamin D content, most physicians and dentists recommend limiting their intake. Cavities and oral decay are caused by sugars and starches mixing with bacteria and causing enamel-wearing acids, and acidic drinks like many juices can speed this process up. So, if you’re looking to increase vitamin D in your diet to improve oral health, other options will serve you better. If you do opt for cereals or orange juice, consume low-sugar varieties in moderation and rinse or brush your teeth afterward.
Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, milk and other foods that have higher fat content are considered better sources. Unfortunately, because it is fat-soluble, certain populations that have a hard time digesting dietary fat may find that they can’t get enough vitamin D, no matter how much they eat. Those with diseases like Crohn’s or Celiac, as well as kidney and liver disease, may be among those who need to seek other options, such as supplements.
Supplements Can Fill in the Gaps
Physicians often recommend that many people take vitamin D supplements, including young children, adults over 65, and those living above the 37th parallel. While there are some differences between types of vitamin D supplements that you may find (either D2 or D3), both are well absorbed by the gut. Vitamin D3 may be better, but if your physician recommends that you take vitamin D, any source can help.
Other Vitamins and Minerals to Focus on to Boost the Effects of Vitamin D
As we’ve learned, a core part of vitamin D’s job in your body is improving calcium absorption and promoting bone and tooth health. So, it can be really helpful to make sure that you’re looking at the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals to really promote oral health from all angles. Besides vitamin D, there are 6 other important vitamins and minerals to focus on to keep your oral health in good shape:
- Calcium is one of the building blocks of bones that also hardens enamel and keeps the jawbone strong and healthy. Good sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon, and broccoli.
- Potassium can improve overall bone density, and also partners with magnesium to keep blood levels at the right acidity. If blood becomes too acidic, it can actually begin to absorb calcium from bones and teeth, making them weaker. Luckily, this mineral is found in lots of foods, like bananas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and avocados.
- Phosphorous is another calcium-supporting mineral that helps our bodies build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Seafood, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, and lentils all contain high levels of phosphorous.
- Vitamin K not only produces proteins that keep bones strong, but it also helps to block substances that break down bone. Leafy greens are the best places to find high levels of vitamin K.
- Vitamin C has yet another purpose: keeping your gums and other soft tissues strong and healthy. It protects against gingivitis and other causes that may allow teeth to become loose. Citrus fruits, leafy greens, and potatoes are good sources.
- Vitamin A helps keep your mucous membranes healthy. A healthy mucous membrane means a healthy barrier and healthy saliva. This prevents dry mouth (which can prevent cavities) and helps your mouth heal quickly (which is important for function and immunity). Similar to many of the food sources above, vitamin A is found in fish, egg yolks, leafy greens, and orange-colored fruits.
Of course, to keep your family’s oral health in great shape, daily cleaning habits and regular visits to the dentist are crucial. If you have any questions about how you can improve your children’s oral health, please reach out to us! We are delighted to be a resource to your family.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.