The mouth is a great indicator of general health. Since we can’t see inside our organs, the mouth can be a window that gives us a quick glance into what may be happening on the inside.
In fact, nutrient deficiencies that can affect our general health, can also lead to negative oral conditions like inflammation, bone loss, gum disease and tooth loss. If something’s wrong with your mouth, that’s a red flag that something is wrong with your overall health, so pay close attention.
Let’s take a look at some of the most essential vitamins and nutrients for maintaining a healthy mouth and strong teeth, and what oral health problems can occur if you aren't getting all the necessary vitamins in your diet.
1. Vitamin C
This is the most important vitamin for keeping gum tissues strong and healthy. Vitamin C helps strengthen connective tissue by building and maintaining collagen, and this connective tissue is what holds your teeth in place and keeps your gums healthy. Vitamin C also helps protect early childhood teeth from erosive wear.
A Vitamin C deficiency can lead to bleeding gums, gum disease, gingivitis, and loose teeth.
The stereotypical image of pirates with missing teeth is the perfect example of the effects of not enough Vitamin C. Pirates out at sea developed a disease called scurvy due to Vitamin C deficiency, and a common side effect of scurvy is tooth loss.
Scurvy isn’t much of an issue nowadays because you can easily get Vitamin C by eating citrus fruits, peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, berries, and kale, and dietary supplements are also widely available.
Most people know calcium is good for your bones, and it’s also good for your teeth. Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the human body, as it helps form and maintain strong bones and teeth.
Calcium deficiency can cause your body to leech any amount of the mineral from your teeth which can lead to tooth decay.
Regardless of your dietary restrictions, you should be able to get an adequate amount of calcium. Dairy products like milk and yogurt have calcium that’s easy for your body to absorb, and canned salmon and sardines are also good sources. If you’re avoiding dairy and meat, some calcium-rich vegetables include: broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy. Stick to steaming or sautéing, instead of boiling, to maintain the calcium content in the food.
It can also be sourced from tofu, fortified milks and cereals, and nuts and seeds like almonds, brazil nuts, tahini, and sunflower seeds. Additionally, you can take a calcium supplement.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is often praised for its benefits for the eyes and skin, but it’s also great for your mouth because it helps with saliva production. Saliva prevents your mouth from getting dry, which can lead to bad breath, tooth decay, and oral cancer. It also breaks down food and helps clean bacteria from in between your teeth.
You can find Vitamin A in orange-colored fruits and vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers as well as fish and egg yolks. It’s also available as a supplement.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in mineralization of bone and teeth which is a fundamental building block for keeping your teeth healthy. In a recent study, vitamin D deficiencies were found to lead to several oral health disorders, like gingival inflammation, cavities, and gum disease. The study also reported that certain oral cancers of the jaw can be due to Vitamin D deficiency.
Hypothetically, we should be able to source our daily Vitamin D intake from the sun. Simple right? But still, Vitamin D deficiency affects about 42% of Americans. So what’s going wrong?
When we go out in the sun without any sun protection, our bodies absorb UVB rays and convert them into Vitamin D. However, if you’re inside all day or live in a cloudy environment, your skin cannot access enough UVB rays, and since dermatologists recommend consistent sunscreen usage to block and reflect these rays, it can be tricky to get enough Vitamin D from the sun alone, and still be protected from skin cancer, sunburn, and other skin damage.
You can still get Vitamin D while protecting your skin with sunscreen and shade. Vitamin D can be easily obtained via supplements, and it’s also present in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring. Additionally, some foods are fortified with vitamin D, like milk and breakfast cereals.
Phosphorus is another important vitamin for healthy teeth. Studies have found that phosphorus is needed for the full absorption and use of calcium which helps strengthen teeth by protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel.
Most people get enough phosphorus in their regular diet without the need for supplements as it’s found in dietary staples like meat, milk, and whole grains. Fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and other protein-rich foods are also excellent sources.
6. Omega 3
The omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. According to Healthline, these properties may make them an effective treatment for periodontal disease. In 2020, a review of 6 studies concluded that omega 3 reduced plaque levels and the depth of pockets or space between the teeth and their gum attachment, which is called the probing depth.
Fish oil, eggs, meats and dairy products are high in Omega 3. If you’re vegan and struggle to get enough omega-3s, flax seeds, chia seeds, and algae based supplements are all options.
Zinc is a mineral that’s necessary to maintain healthy gums, and not consuming enough zinc may increase your risk of developing periodontal disease, and cavity-causing bacteria. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce gum inflammation.
Pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms, legumes are some food sources of zinc.
As an antioxidant, CoQ10 has not only anti-inflammatory properties but also offers protection by fighting free radicals on a cellular level. Studies have shown CoQ10 can increase antioxidant enzymes in the gums, therefore helping prevent periodontal disease.
Nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables, along with organ meats like liver, are high in CoQ10.
9. B Vitamins
There’s a whole range of B Vitamins including, B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-9 (folate), and B-12.
Canker sores and ulcers on the corners of lips can be a sign of a deficiency in these vital B Vitamins. Inflammation of the tongue and gums can also indicate B Vitamins deficiency.
Foods rich in Vitamin B include poultry, red meat, spinach, almonds, legumes, and dairy products. Vitamin B supplements are also readily available.
Potassium is great for keeping tooth enamel strong and preventing demineralization of bones and teeth, and therefore, helping to prevent tooth decay.
It is also a key vitamin for creating blood clots which is necessary if you experience bleeding gums while brushing or if you’re recovering from oral surgery like wisdom teeth extraction.
Potassium rich foods include bananas, leafy green veggies, avocados, milk, and cheese.
A Healthy Diet is the Basis for Healthy Teeth
The key to a bright smile is a healthy smile, and the key to a healthy smile is a nourished body. A large part of maintaining exceptional oral health is eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet full of whole foods. If you are worried that you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients, see your doctor for a blood test and discuss supplementation if necessary.