Our understanding of the role that various vitamins and minerals play in the body is still growing, even as related to well-known vitamins like vitamin D. We all know how important it is to get dairy in our diets, especially for building strong teeth and bones. While our oral health gets a mention in this, our teeth aren’t the only thing that benefits from receiving an abundance of vitamin D. Our gums are one of the major beneficiaries of getting enough of this essential nutrient, and it has demonstrated the ability to combat periodontal disease. This condition stands as one of the most frequent causes of tooth loss in adults.
What Is Periodontal Disease?
Most of us are familiar with gingivitis, the most basic form of gum disease that affects over 90% of Americans at some point in their lives. The puffy gums that are tender and occasionally bleed when brushed are symptoms that signify this condition. When left untreated, this condition can develop into the more severe periodontal disease. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, periodontal disease can also cause the gums to detach from the teeth, damage the connective tissue that secures our teeth in place, and even begin to damage the jawbone in severe cases. All of these together lead to the loss of teeth in patients experiencing this condition. Vitamin D helps protect us from this condition in the following ways:
- Healthy gums require vitamin D to remain healthy, even in the absence of periodontal disease.
- Vitamin D has been shown to help battle periodontal disease when it’s present.
- Vitamin D also attacks the mutans virus responsible for this condition when found in the bloodstream.
- It also helps gums and bones heal when periodontal disease has been successfully treated.
The elements of Vitamin D responsible for the antibacterial action described above are known as cathelicidins and defensins. These natural antibiotics help to reduce the total number of bacteria found in the mouth. It also helps to reduce the enzyme matrix metalloproteinases or MMP. This enzyme has been connected with the presence of periodontal disease. Those without sufficient vitamin D in their diet don’t experience these benefits and are left more vulnerable to advanced gum disease or periodontitis.
How Can I Ensure I’m Getting Enough Vitamin D?
It’s likely that you’ve heard about the importance of getting dairy in your diet when you were growing up. This is due to milk products typically being fortified with Vitamin D in the United States. Combined with the naturally high level of calcium in dairy, it’s a solid way of making sure your teeth, gums, and bones are all protected. For those who choose not to drink milk or are lactose intolerant, there are other dietary options as well. Egg yolk, sardines, salmon, and shrimp all contain high levels of Vitamin D. Of course, the easiest way to get enough Vitamin D is simply to spend sufficient time outdoors, just a few hours a week. Our body naturally produces this vitamin when exposed to sunlight; just be sure to use sunscreen!