If you’re supplementing your diet with calcium and vitamin D to prevent bone loss, you may be more likely to hang onto your pearly whites, according to a report at this week’s meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research in Toronto. Even so, older adults need to floss their teeth and see the dentist regularly because with increased age come increased risks for losing teeth.
“Studies have shown that calcium and vitamin D decrease bone loss in the hip and forearm, but we weren’t sure if they had an effect on tooth loss,” says lead author Elizabeth Krall, MPH, PhD, a researcher at Boston University Dental School and Tufts University Nutrition Research Center. “Now we know that supplementation may also improve tooth retention, along with routine dental care and good oral hygiene,” she tells WebMD.
To explore the role of supplementation on tooth retention, the researchers followed more than 140 older adults for five years. Participants took either a placebo or 500 mg of calcium plus 700 units of vitamin D daily for three years. Both during and after the trial, their teeth were examined periodically.
For those who took supplements, the likelihood of losing one or more teeth was 40% less, even two years later. Tooth loss was also linked to the number of cavities, frequency of flossing, and use of thiazide diuretics, a type of medication that helps lower blood pressure.
Not surprisingly, dentists applaud the new findings. “Tooth plaque is a problem for everybody, but some older adults are getting cavities at twice the rate of teen-agers,” says Boston dentist Richard Price, DMD, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. “This is because the root surface becomes more exposed as we age.” Unfortunately, many prescription drugs are also to blame.
“We need saliva to wash away bacteria that causes plaque, but there are up to 400 medications that dry the mouth out,” Price tells WebMD. “That’s why it’s so important for older adults to brush and floss regularly,” in addition to taking supplements.
Swallowing a vitamin tablet is not that difficult to do, but for some older people, brushing and flossing can be a difficult process because of joint pain. If that is the case, Price has these following suggestions:
- Look for dental floss that has a handle
- Get a toothbrush with a bigger handle
- Attach a rubber ball around the handle of your toothbrush
- Switch to an automatic toothbrush
Another reason for tooth loss is that the jawbone loses its mass faster than other bones, according to Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “But for many people, it’s hard to get enough calcium through diet alone. And because vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, the two nutrients are often taken together as dietary supplements,” she explains.
As a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, Rosenbloom tells WebMD that you can also supplement too much. “The recommended upper limits are 2,500 mg a day for calcium and 1,000 units a day for vitamin D. Any more than that could be toxic to your kidneys, liver, or heart,” she cautions. In selecting a brand, here’s what Rosenbloom advises:
- Try calcium citrate, it may be easier to absorb than calcium carbonate
- Choose a combination product that contains vitamin D, too
- Look for the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol, indicating that it will dissolve properly
- Avoid bone meal and dolamite, which often contain lead or arsenic
- Consider good-tasting chews that contain both nutrients
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