There’s a very common pattern surrounding dental check-ups. Chances are, you were told at your last appointment that you should brush and floss more. If this sounds familiar, don't worry—you're not alone.
Many people don't stick to a low-sugar diet or a strict oral hygiene regimen, and they often report the same experience: Life got busy, they forgot, or they simply couldn't maintain a daily flossing habit.
While many people will frantically floss or brush before their dental appointment, they know deep down their dentist will likely be able to tell if they keep a regular routine or not. This can be a frustrating situation for both dentist and patient, who will not experience the desired results or the improved dental health that should accompany every dental visit.
But what if dental caries or bleeding gums were controlled by more than just brushing regularly and getting your sugar habit under control? Some people never follow recommendations to brush or cut sugar, and yet they exhibit no dental problems. Meanwhile, there are other people who do brush, floss, and eat well and still have issues with their teeth.
This may seem like a fluke, but in reality, your diet or nightly dental care routine aren’t the only pieces of the puzzle to achieving great dental health. You should also eat a diet that promotes healthy teeth (and not just a diet low on sugar).
Vitamin D and Dental Health
Teeth have often been thought of as inanimate objects that need to be kept polished and clean—kind of like a porcelain vase that requires constant superficial maintenance. However, unlike porcelain vases, teeth are a living, functioning part of your body. The way the body manages minerals is guided by calcium balance and the immune system, which are both regulated by vitamin D.1
Tooth decay and bleeding gums are the two most common measures of your dental health. Tooth decay is the most common chronic condition in kids.2Additionally, bleeding gums are the first sign of gum (periodontal) disease—a chronic inflammatory disorder. Studies show that it's not just a sign of your gum health, but also a sign of your gut health.3 Therefore, what goes on in other parts of the body can also impact dental health.
Tooth Decay: Vitamin D and the Dental Immune System
Vitamin D plays a key role in promoting dental health and helping prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Vitamin D is crucial for building healthy bones, as it allows your digestive system to absorb calcium from your diet. Calcium is the raw material that—with phosphorus—creates the bony structure that makes up tooth enamel. Under your enamel is dentin, which contains live cells that the body uses to protect the all-important blood supply and nerve inside your tooth.1
Your dentin 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.4 If your vitamin D levels are low, then your defense system doesn’t have the fuel to protect and repair infected teeth.
Bleeding Gums: Vitamin D, Oral Bacteria, and Inflammation
Oral hygiene is also recommended by your dentist to prevent gingivitis, a condition in which the gums are inflamed and bleed.
Gingivitis isn't just a sign of poor dental health; it is also a sign of an inflamed immune system. Your mouth is an extension of your gut microbiome, where the majority of the immune system is primed. Like the gut, the mouth is an area where constant interaction between microbes and your own immune cells takes place.
Further more, vitamin D plays a role in managing the immune system. It helps control how and which immune cells are formed.1
Vitamin D DeficiencyKids who are vitamin D deficient have shown to be at higher risk of tooth decay.6
This relationship is relative to both deficiency and insufficiency. The standard test for vitamin D is blood level measurements of 25(OH)D, with a level below 20 ng/ml considered a deficiency.
Although more studies are needed, ensuring that you are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D may lower your risk.
Manage Your Levels
There are simple lifestyle and dietary changes to keep your vitamin D levels up.
We know that vitamin D is made in the body when sunlight hits the skin. Therefore, getting up to 30 minutes of natural sunlight per day can be a great source. Remember to keep the face and arms exposed, otherwise your body won’t convert vitamin D. Keep in mind that if you have digestive, immune, or liver issues, they can impact your conversion of vitamin D as well.7
DietIts important that you have one to two servings of vitamin-D-rich foods per day.7
Rich sources of vitamin D3 include:
- Fatty fish
- Organ meats
- Butter, yogurt, and cheese (from pasture raised animals)