October 14, 2005

More vitamin D may mean healthier gums

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with higher blood levels
of vitamin D may be less likely to develop gum disease, a new
study suggests.

Using data from a national U.S. health survey, researchers
found that teenagers and adults with the highest blood levels
of vitamin D were 20 percent less likely than those with the
lowest levels to show signs of gingivitis -- a milder form of
gum disease in which the gums become swollen and bleed easily.

It's too soon, though, to start soaking up the sun or
popping vitamin D for the sake of your gums, according to the
study's lead author, Dr. Thomas Dietrich of Boston University's
Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

The study can only show that there's an association between
vitamin D status and gum health, and not that the vitamin is
bestowing the benefit, he told Reuters Health.

But, he said, he and his colleagues are now conducting an
intervention study to see whether vitamin D does indeed affect
a person's susceptibility to gingivitis.

The current study, published in the American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition, is based on data from 6,700 Americans who
took part in a federal health study between 1988 and 1994.

When the researchers broke participants into five groups
based on their blood levels of vitamin D, they found that as
vitamin levels rose, the risk of gingivitis inched downward.
The group with the highest vitamin D levels was 20 percent less
likely to have signs of gingivitis than the group with the
lowest levels-even with factors such as age and income taken
into account.

Vitamin D is probably best known for its role in calcium
absorption and bone health. But recent research has suggested
that it also helps maintain a healthy immune system and may
fight inflammation.

It's this anti-inflammatory benefit that may explain the
vitamin's link to healthier gums, Dietrich and his colleagues
speculate. Gingivitis arises when bacteria build up between the
teeth and gums, leading to inflammation and bleeding.

It is possible that vitamin D does not directly affect gum
disease risk, but is instead a marker of general health habits,
according to the researchers. Vitamin D levels depend in large
part on sun exposure, and people with higher levels may, for
instance, spend more time exercising outdoors. These same
people may be especially careful about brushing and flossing,
the researchers point out.

Still, Dietrich said he thinks the vitamin D question is an
"exciting area of research," and ongoing studies should show
whether the vitamin does the gums good.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September