What the summer may mean for your oral health
SUMMARY: Research shows that moderate exposure to the sun can have a positive side effect on your smile.
Posted: July 22, 2013
There are a lot of things that can impact your oral health without you knowing it, and there is growing research that finds sun exposure can be beneficial to keep your pearly whites and gums in peak condition. While scientists don't suggest venturing outside for an extended period of time, getting the essential amount of vitamin D is important for bone development, which includes the teeth. To help prevent tooth decay, tooth loss and gum disease, spend some time outdoors and soak in the sun.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom have suggested that the benefits of sun exposure could outweigh the risks if taken in moderation. In fact, a review of 24 studies spanning 60 years notes that vitamin D could reduce the probability of having tooth decay, which can in turn lower your risk of bad breath. Studies dating back to the 1930s have found that a vitamin D deficiency can have a direct effect on the likelihood of an individual needing cavity treatments.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter, notes that the "sunshine vitamin" can be found in a number of food items like fish, dairy and some soy products, but you should also make sure to expose yourself to the sun for a short period of time each day. However, he urges that people take precautions to protect their skin.
"We have just been through a long, cold winter, which could mean many people are suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. Add to this the increasing number of children with tooth decay, and it suddenly it doesn't seem as frivolous," Carter said. "Teeth aren't exactly bones, but they have the same problems if they're not strong enough. If your jawbone isn't strong enough to support your teeth, or if the tooth itself is weak and brittle, there's a chance you'll develop problems. The same applies to your gums. If they are inflamed or swollen, you're more likely to suffer from severe gum disease, the largest cause of tooth loss."
The research conducted at the University of Edinburgh and published online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that exposure to the sun can reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and stroke. This landmark research noted that when a compound called nitric oxide touches the skin, it is released into our blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Oral health and heart disease have been linked in various studies in the past, so it makes sense that sun exposure would have an effect on the mouth. Some past findings have shown that there is a strong connection between vitamin D deficiency and the need for cavity treatments.
Eat your vitamin D
If you'd prefer to get rid of bad breath and lower your risk of tooth decay and gum disease by consuming a high level of vitamin D, there are several items to consider. Fish, especially raw fish, have a high amount of the vitamin so you can try to eat Atlantic herring, salmon, mackerel or tuna more often. Fortified milk has about one-fifth of the recommended daily volume of vitamin D, pork has one-seventh and eggs have about one-tenth.
It still holds true that exposure to sun for an extended period of time can have negative side effects on the skin, so researchers urge people to take adequate precautions to cover up with clothing and sunscreen. Vitamin D can be soaked up by the skin in about 20 minutes depending on the individual and the strength of the sun.