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Vitamin D Is Good for Your Gums

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
August 26, 2004

Getting enough vitamin D, either through the diet or from sunlight, could be important for oral health, based on findings of a recent study funded in part by the Agricultural Research Service. The analytical study looked at a possible connection between vitamin D levels in the blood and periodontal disease, a widespread chronic inflammatory condition marked by a loss of attachment of the thin ligaments that connect teeth with their surrounding bone sockets. Periodontal disease is a primary cause of tooth loss, particularly among the elderly.

The study was conducted by Bess Dawson-Hughes, a physician specializing in bone health and nutrition, together with colleagues in academia and medicine. Dawson-Hughes is director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass.

The scientists studied relevant data on 11,202 men and women aged 20 or older who participated in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The scientists analyzed data on periodontal attachment loss and blood levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D3, a biomarker indicating vitamin D levels accumulated from both dietary intake and exposure to sunlight.

The population was ranked into five groups from lowest to highest in terms of blood levels of vitamin D. Four out of the five groups--80 percent of those studied--had lower-than-desired vitamin D levels. The scientists found that the higher the levels in volunteers' blood serum, the better their periodontal health. Among men and women aged 50 and older, on average, those in the groups at the low range of vitamin D levels had 25 to 27 percent more attachment loss than had those in the highest range.

The scientists suspect that vitamin D cuts down on the inflammatory response that leads to periodontal disease.

Confirmational studies are needed, but the findings suggest important oral health implications related to vitamin D intake. An adequate intake for dietary vitamin D has been established as a range from 200 to 600 international units (IU) daily, depending upon age group, although recent evidence suggests that more vitamin D may be needed.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.