Vitamin D for Preventing Tooth Loss

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BY SOME ESTIMATES, more teeth are lost in the US today from gum disease than from cavities. Much of that is due to poor oral hygiene. While cavities are on the decline as a result of water fluoridation and fluoride exposure from other sources, if you don't brush and floss every day, the space in the little cuff of gum where the bottom of a tooth attaches to bone collects bacteria. Over time, the bacteria cause inflammation around the gum line. If the condition isn't kept in check, the cuff, or pocket, deepens. The gum then recedes, the bone that keeps the tooth rooted in place wears away, and the tooth falls out.

Newly published research suggests that to prevent gum disease, known in professional circles as periodontal disease, you need something besides a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and regular visits to the dentist for professional cleanings of the gum pocket. That something is adequate vitamin D. Investigators from Berlin's Humboldt University, Harvard, and Tufts made the finding when they checked the periodontal records of more than 11,000 men and women.

It turns out that in people over 50, those with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood had lost about 25 percent more "periodontal attachment" than those with the highest levels of that nutrient.

What vitamin D's role might be
Exactly how vitamin D might help to keep teeth in place isn't certain. One possibility, of course, has to do with the fact that vitamin D is necessary for optimal bone mineral density. Without enough D, absorption of calcium is compromised, so bone becomes weaker than it should be and less likely to be able to hold a tooth in place.

Lead researcher Thomas Dietrich, MD, DMD, MPH, and his colleagues also suggest that vitamin D might have an anti-inflammatory effect that could help inhibit the inflammation that's part and parcel of gum disease. They point to previous research that showed supplementation with vitamin D reduced concentrations of blood markers for bodily inflammation in people who were critically ill.

Whatever the potential mechanism (it still has to be proven that this is a cause-and-effect phenomenon rather than simply a chance association between vitamin D and healthier gums), adults over 50 in the US frequently get too little D to begin with, The Daily Value for those ages 51 to 70 is 400 International Units, while the Daily Value for those 71 and older is 600 units. A cup of fortified milk or fortified orange juice contains 100 units, with fatty fish and egg yolks (which people don't eat too often) contributing some, too. A supplement containing at least 400 units of vitamin D can help make up a dietary shortfall.

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