Dental caries continues to be a prominent disease in children. Past scientific studies, conducted around World War II, demonstrated a 50 percent reduction in dental caries in children by increasing intake of Vitamin D. Recently these studies were reviewed and indeed still show promise for the control of early childhood caries; indicating that Vitamin D could be a secret weapon in the battle against cavities in childhood and beyond.1
Vitamin D most notably increases bone health and helps to prevent osteoporosis. It facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphate through the intestines. According to an article in the Journal of Nutrition by G. Wolf, Adolf Windaus discovered the Vitamin in sterols of fatty tissue of animals and in plants in 1928. At the time, it was understood that certain dietary deficiencies could lead to diseases such as rickets and scurvy. The recognition that Vitamin D could help with common childhood ailments evolved to the connection with tooth decay.
Twenty-four clinical trial studies were published from the 1920s to the 1980s relating to Vitamin D and dental health. These studies were conducted in the USA, UK, Canada, Austria, New Zealand and Sweden and included approximately 3,000 children. Overall, the results showed that Vitamin D supplementation led to a 50% drop in the incidence of tooth decay, perhaps because Vitamin D helps the body absorb the tooth-building calcium it needs. These results were promising; however, contradictory interpretation between the American Dental Association and the American Medical Association as well as the US National Research Council caused these earlier results to be dismissed and categorized as 'unresolved'. Feeling that the results were promising despite the flaws and varying methodologies, Dr. Philippe Hujoel, at the University of Washington, began a systematic review of the historical studies saying his main goal was to summarize the existing research, so dental professionals could "take a fresh look at this Vitamin D question".
The review revealed a decrease in tooth decay by up to 47% when Vitamin D supplementation was introduced in pregnant women and young children. Also, recent studies looking at tooth development in utero and the effects of deficiencies in Vitamin D, recognized a link to enamel hyperplasia in children. Simply increasing Vitamin D during pregnancy and early childhood could give kids a better chance of fewer cavities and stronger bones.
There was no difference found in the type of exposure, whether from ultraviolet (UV) light, or with the supplements of Vitamin D2 or Vitamin D3. Additionally, looking at the results retrospectively revealed that the effects of Vitamin D supplementation were ineffective after the age of 13, especially in girls. This could be attributed to changes in the body during growth that included increased body fat that reduced the effect of this fat-soluble Vitamin. Hujeol also noted that children who are Vitamin D deficient experience late teething and a higher risk of tooth decay.
Hujoel summarized the benefits of Vitamin D introduced in childhood as the following:
- Improved tooth development
- Better formation of dentin with lifetime effects
- A topical protection similar to fluoride
- Changes in the amount and components of saliva that enhanced enamel strength
- Enhanced whole body immunity
Therefore, revisiting these past studies has reaffirmed the importance of Vitamin D in dental health. Dental caries, or decay, among children is increasing while Vitamin D levels among many populations have dropped; whether this is more than just a coincidence is open to debate.1 In the meantime, pregnant women or young mothers can do little harm by realizing that Vitamin D is essential to their offspring's health.