Mother Nature has delivered a tough concoction of weather this winter – from unrelenting snowstorms to bitter cold temperatures, surely many of us, myself included, are ready for sunshine and warmer temperatures. Thankfully, spring is just over a month away and we’ll be purchasing sunscreen instead of snow shovels before we know it. Exposure to sunlight is something I welcome as an oral health specialist, because of the proven benefits from vitamin D for the health of the mouth and overall health.
The human body synthesizes vitamin D through exposure to the ultraviolet B rays of the sun. One of the main functions of vitamin D is to promote the absorption of calcium, the most prominent mineral in the body and one that is essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones throughout the entire skeletal system, including our teeth. The correlation between vitamin D levels and calcium absorption is highlighted in this Harvard School of Public Health article, which tells us, “when blood levels of calcium begin to drop, the body responds in several ways. It promotes the conversion of vitamin D into its active form, which then travels to the intestines (to encourage greater calcium absorption into the blood) and to the kidneys (to minimize calcium loss in the urine).”
Vitamin D is as critical for health of the mouth, as it is for the rest of the body. Children need it to support proper mineralization of calcium during formation of the teeth, starting with the six-year molars and on to the 12-year molars. The same holds true for adults, who require vitamin D to maintain bone strength, as osteoporosis becomes a risk later in life. Regardless of age, a strong set of teeth is fundamental for proper chewing, speaking, and the ability to flash a beautiful and healthy smile. In a study conducted by Elizabeth Krall, MPH, PhD, adults who consumed vitamin D and calcium supplements were shown to have significantly less tooth loss over those who did not take the supplements.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the safe upper limit for vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU/day for infants, 2,500 to 3,000 IU/day for children 1-8 years, and 4,000 IU/day for children 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and lactating teens and women. Excessive sun exposure will not cause vitamin D poisoning because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces.
Our body’s ability to absorb vitamin D through synthesis of sunlight is geographically and seasonally dependent. For those of us who live north of 40 degrees latitude (i.e. San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia), we are unable to produce vitamin D during the winter months because the sun is at too low of an angle in the sky. Although winter is nearing its much-anticipated end, I’d aim to incorporate foods rich in Vitamin D to help reverse any deficiencies. It’s naturally present in salmon, tuna, cheese and egg yolks and is fortified in the majority of the US milk supply, margarine, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, orange juice and yogurt.
No matter what the season, a healthy and beautiful smile requires daily care and attention. Adequate absorption of vitamin D and other essential minerals support the health of your smile just like the rest of your body.