We all know that too much sun can be bad for us, putting us at risk of skin cancer, but it turns out that many of us have gone in the opposite direction: not getting enough sun, which can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which can be bad for your bones and bad for your teeth.

Vitamin D, Sun Exposure, and Your Teeth

Your body is capable of manufacturing vitamin D, the only major nutrient it can produce. But in order to do that, it needs sunlight, or, rather, the component of sunlight known as UVB, part of the ultraviolet spectrum. UVB interacts with a cholesterol in your skin, producing the protonutrient, which is then taken to the liver and kidneys for turning into the usable form of the nutrient.

dreamstime_xs_2038233Vitamin D helps your oral health in many ways. It’s crucial to your body’s ability to absorb calcium, which is the main component of both teeth and the bones that support them. So it can reduce your risk of cavities and ensure your teeth are strongly anchored in the jawbone. But vitamin D also plays a role in suppressing inflammatory diseases, and it helps your body fight oral bacteria, which can prevent gum disease as well as reduce your need for restorative dentistry.

If you have a shortage of vitamin D, which perhaps 50% of all Americans do, you may see an increased risk of cavities and tooth loss. One study even suggests that a pregnant woman’s vitamin D level predicts her children’s risk of cavities.

How Much Sun Do You Need?

It’s not hard to get enough sun to produce enough vitamin D. It can take as little as 10 minutes of sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm three times a week to ensure your body is making enough vitamin D.

That’s not too bad (though in the hot, humid days of summer even 10 minutes in the sun can seem like too much). But that’s under optimal conditions. You will need more if:

  • You wear more clothes (this estimate is based on exposing arms, legs, and face wearing shorts and a tanktop)
  • You have darker skin (darker-skinned individuals produce less vitamin D)
  • It’s winter (the estimate was based on the intensity of summer sun)

And remember, to get the benefit, you have to get actual UV exposure, so don’t put sunscreen on until you’ve been out for a while.

Other Ways to Get Vitamin D

For people who can’t get enough sun exposure to manufacture vitamin D, you can supplement it through your diet. Fatty fish like salmon have the highest levels of vitamin D, but fortified dairy products are also good sources of vitamin D. Beef livers and egg yolks are other sources of vitamin D.

And, if you’re still not getting enough vitamin D, you can take supplements.

Want to learn more about maintaining optimal oral and general health? Please call 803-781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.