For a few years now, we’ve been hearing a lot more about vitamin D – how crucial it is and how most people don’t get enough of it. The latter is especially true for those in northern climates with more of a winter since sunlight is a major source of this nutrient, turning the 7-dehydrocholestrol in our skin into cholecalciferol, otherwise known as vitamin D3.
We Texans can count ourselves fortunate to have good sun year round, as D plays a big role in dental health. For starters, it promotes healthy bone and remineralization of the teeth. It’s also been thought to help prevent tooth decay. Yet,
While vitamin D’s role in supporting bone health has not been disputed, significant disagreement has historically existed over its role in preventing caries, Hujoel noted. The American Medical Association and the U.S. National Research Council concluded around 1950 that vitamin D was beneficial in managing dental caries. The American Dental Association said otherwise – based on the same evidence. In 1989, the National Research Council, despite new evidence supporting vitamin D’s caries-fighting benefits, called the issue “unresolved.”
Perhaps a new study out of the University of Washington will help resolve it, for it has confirmed the “positive association” of vitamin D with lower caries risk. (“Caries” is the clinical name for cavities.)
Analyzing two dozen studies published between the 1920s and 1980s, Dr. Philippe Hujoel found a nearly 50% reduction in tooth decay associated with D3. The source of the vitamin didn’t matter much: both UV exposure and nutritional supplementation had a positive effect. Though he noted significant weaknesses in most of the studies he looked at, the consistency of positive effects is telling.
“The analysis of CCT data identified vitamin D as a promising caries-preventive agent, leading to a low-certainty conclusion that vitamin D in childhood may reduce the incidence of caries,” Dr. Hujoel concluded.
The vitamin D question takes on greater importance in the light of current public health trends, he noted. Vitamin D levels in many populations are decreasing while dental caries levels in young children are increasing.
“Whether this is more than just a coincidence is open to debate,” Dr. Hujoel said. “In the meantime, pregnant women or young mothers can do little harm by realizing that vitamin D is essential to their offspring’s health. Vitamin D does lead to teeth and bones that are better mineralized.”
4 Ways to Boost Your D Intake
- Make the most of the sun you have – or make your own “sun”
When there’s sunshine, try to get out in it for a while, if only for a short walk. If sunlight is especially scarce (such as in the far north), try using a sun lamp or safe tanning bed. To find out how much sunlight you need at any time of year, use this online tool.
- Eat your vitamins
Vitamin D can be found naturally in fatty fish (e.g., catfish, salmon, sardines, tuna) and eggs. It’s also often added to milk and other dairy products.
- When all else fails, supplement
If you can’t get enough D through sunlight and diet, you may find it helpful to take a supplement. Make sure it’s the right kind of D – D3 (the kind our bodies make in response to sunlight) – and whole food sourced (not synthetic).
- Make the most of the D you ingest
Your body makes the best use of vitamin D when it’s accompanied by vitamin K and calcium. As with D, these are best consumed naturally, through whole foods rather than pills.
Image by Peter Gerdes, via Flickr