Vitamin D: (The D Stands for Dentist)
We’ve all experienced those stressful moments before our dental check-up. You were told at your last appointment that you should floss (daily!) and brush better. But as life tends to do, things get busy, and your oral hygiene regime slipped off your radar.
So as you’re frantically flossing before your appointment. You know deep down your dentist is going to be able to tell anyway.
As a dentist, it frustrated me for a long time that I would tell patients to brush and floss, only to go on deaf ears! Then, there were the patients who did brush and floss well and still had problems.
I would eventually realize that it wasn’t the patients’ fault, it was mine! Brushing and flossing aren’t the only piece in the puzzle to great dental health. For a clear dental check-up, you need to eat a diet for healthy teeth.
It’s easy to see that our teeth are like an inanimate object, kind of like a porcelain vase that we should polish. Well, teeth aren’t like porcelain vases. They are a living functioning part of your body. The way our body manages minerals (including those found inside teeth) is guided by calcium balance and the immune system, which are both balanced by vitamin D.
Vitamin D as a measure for dental health
The two most common measures for dental health are 1) tooth decay and 2) bleeding gums. Both are chronic diseases; tooth decay is the most common chronic condition in kids and bleeding gums is the first sign of gum disease. Gum disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder. It’s a sign of how your oral flora relate to your gut flora.
While we’ve focused on polishing teeth clean, we’ve failed to look at what’s going on in the body. Vitamin D plays a key role the cause of tooth decay and gum disease.
Each of your teeth have cells inside them that require fuel to stay strong. That’s why tooth decay isn’t necessarily associated with bad oral hygiene. Many traditional cultures never touched a tooth brush and had very little tooth decay.
One of the main factors for this is vitamin D. We know that vitamin D is created in the body when sunlight hits the skin. It’s crucial for building healthy bones. Vitamin D allows us to absorb calcium from our diet.
Calcium is the raw material that with phosphorus, create the bony structure that make up tooth enamel. It contains ‘guardian’ cells that sit at the border of your enamel and release immune factors; they can repair damaged dentin, but only if there’s enough vitamin D present.
If your vitamin D levels are low, then your defense system doesn’t have the fuel to protect and repair infected teeth.
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When we floss, we’re trying to stop those pesky bleeding gums. Gingivitis is a sign of inflammation.
Bleeding gums are a sign of an inflamed immune system. Your mouth is an extension of your gut microbiome where 80% of the immune system is primed. Like the gut, the mouth is an interaction between microbes and your own immune cells.
Vitamin D plays a role in managing the immune system. It controls how and which immune cells are formed.
Vitamin D deficiency
Kids who have vitamin D deficiency have shown to be at higher risk of tooth decay, while kids that were measured as vitamin D ‘insufficient’ had a relatively increased risk of tooth decay.
This relationship is relative to deficiency and insufficiency. The standard blood test for Vitamin D are blood levels of 25(OH)D. If you or your child have experienced tooth decay, you should have your vitamin D checked.
For the most part, I find my patients are between 20-40ng/ml, while you should aim to be between 40-60ng/ml.
There are simple lifestyle and dietary changes to keep your vitamin D levels up.
Similarly both risks of vitamin D and benefit of supplementation may improve risk of gum disease. More studies are needed in these areas.
Lifestyle changes for great teeth
Lifestyle: Get 30 minutes of natural sunlight per day.
- Remember to keep face and arms exposed, otherwise, your body won’t convert Vitamin D
- Geography: Above 37 degrees latitude, sunlight won’t convert to vitamin D in the skin except in summer
- If you have digestive, immune or liver issues, it will impact your conversion of vitamin D
Diet: Have 1-2 servings of vitamin D rich foods per day
Foods that strengthen teeth need to supply a rich source of dietary vitamin D3. These include:
- Fatty fish
- Organ meats
- Butter, yogurt, cheese (from pasture raised animals)
While I always recommend diet as the long term way to manage vitamin D, if you are deficient (below 25ng/ml) you should consult with your healthcare professional regarding supplementation.
Generally, a dosage of 3000-5000IU of Vitamin D3 / Day is often adequate to raise blood levels.
Remember that D3 should always be taken alongside adequate vitamin K2.
Vitamin D for health teeth and body
Till date, your brushing and flossing habits may have been the focus of your dental appointment. However, it is important to remember that Vitamin D is one of the biggest contributors to your dental health.
You can manage your vitamin D levels through lifestyle and food! Remember eating for healthy teeth is eating for a healthy body!
For more information on diet for healthy teeth you can visit my website and download my free EBook – 4 Quick Dietary Steps for Straighter, Stronger, Healthier Teeth.
Dr. Steven Lin is currently the Principal Dentist at Luminous Dentistry, a dental practice on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia, that strives to give individuals of all ages the best possible smile.
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