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More vitamin D may mean healthier gums

People with higher blood levels of vitamin D may be less likely to develop gum disease, a new study suggests.
/ Source: Reuters

People with higher blood levels of vitamin D may be less likely to develop gum disease, a new study suggests.

Using data from a national U.S. health survey, researchers found that teenagers and adults with the highest blood levels of vitamin D were 20 percent less likely than those with the lowest levels to show signs of gingivitis — a milder form of gum disease in which the gums become swollen and bleed easily.

It’s too soon, though, to start soaking up the sun or popping vitamin D for the sake of your gums, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Thomas Dietrich of Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

The study can only show that there’s an association between vitamin D status and gum health, and not that the vitamin is bestowing the benefit, he told Reuters Health.

But, he said, he and his colleagues are now conducting an intervention study to see whether vitamin D does indeed affect a person’s susceptibility to gingivitis.

The current study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is based on data from 6,700 Americans who took part in a federal health study between 1988 and 1994.

Lower risk of gingivitis
When the researchers broke participants into five groups based on their blood levels of vitamin D, they found that as vitamin levels rose, the risk of gingivitis inched downward. The group with the highest vitamin D levels was 20 percent less likely to have signs of gingivitis than the group with the lowest levels even with factors such as age and income taken into account.

Vitamin D is probably best known for its role in calcium absorption and bone health. But recent research has suggested that it also helps maintain a healthy immune system and may fight inflammation.

It’s this anti-inflammatory benefit that may explain the vitamin’s link to healthier gums, Dietrich and his colleagues speculate. Gingivitis arises when bacteria build up between the teeth and gums, leading to inflammation and bleeding.

It is possible that vitamin D does not directly affect gum disease risk, but is instead a marker of general health habits, according to the researchers. Vitamin D levels depend in large part on sun exposure, and people with higher levels may, for instance, spend more time exercising outdoors. These same people may be especially careful about brushing and flossing, the researchers point out.

Still, Dietrich said he thinks the vitamin D question is an “exciting area of research,” and ongoing studies should show whether the vitamin does the gums good.