News & Press
John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry
Sunshine Can Save Your Teeth
Vitamin D, known also as the "Sunshine Vitamin," is just as essential to healthy teeth and bone as calcium, according to an article published in the Journal of Periodontology. The best way to obtain vitamin D is from sunshine. The body synthesizes Vitamin D after exposure to sunshine. Casual exposure to sunlight of ten to fifteen minutes twice per week to the arm, face, hands or back will be sufficient to avoid deficiency in this vitamin. For those who live in an area with limited access to sunshine, eating foods fortified with vitamin D, such a milk, eggs, sardines and tuna fish may also provide sufficient amount of this vitamin. Talk to your physician about whether you should be taking a vitamin D or calcium supplement.
Numerous studies indicate that vitamin D and calcium deficiencies result in bone loss and increased inflammation. Inflammation is a major symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, and is recognized by many dental scientists that vitamin D and calcium may be a risk factor for this common disease.
The increase of a protein called "proinflammatory cytokine" is associated with a number of infectious diseases, including periodontal disease. It has been demonstrated through studies that vitamin D can suppress cytokine production, and possibly lower the risk of this common disease.
Making sure that you have sufficient vitamin D synthesis is important in promoting healthy gums, but not the entire answer to treating this disease. Periodontal disease occurs in the presence of specific types of bacteria (periodontal pathogens), in the form of "plaque," that triggers in the susceptible host (the patient who is genetically vulnerable) an inflammatory process, including the production of cytokines. This inflammatory cellular reaction incites certain white blood cells (e.g., polymorphocytes) to destroy the bone supporting the teeth. As bone is destroyed, deep spaces are formed between the gum and the root. These are called gum "pockets." Over time these pockets deepened and spread, resulting in the eventual loss of teeth.
Treatment consists of careful removal of the plaque, which is made up of millions of colonies of harmful bacteria lodged under the gum. This procedure is called "root planing." If the pockets are normalized after root planing, the patient should return for regular recall visits for "dis-infection" of the pockets. Bacteria that cause gum disease are analogous to termites that destroy the foundation of your house. The disease cannot be cured, but can only be controlled through regular maintenance care. Surgery is sometimes necessary to the teeth if root planing does not return the patient to normal.
To keep your teeth healthy and bright, brush and floss your teeth twice to three times daily, see your dentist regularly, and get enough sunshine.