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Getting the calcium your body needs is a three-pronged affair

Healthy teeth and gums require a healthy mix of calcium, Vitamin D, and phosphorus. Together these nutrients help young teeth grow strong and help prevent adult teeth and gums from deteriorating as we get older. Here’s how:

Calcium, which is a mineral, is the main component in our teeth—accounting for up to 70 per cent of each tooth. Calcium forms part of the dentin, the hard, bony tissue beneath the enamel, as well as part of the hard outer layer of enamel itself. In fact, teeth are the densest structures in our body.

“Infants, children, and youth need calcium to ensure their teeth develop fully and well early in life,” says Dr. Mary McNally, an associate professor in the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie University.

In addition, without enough calcium, kids may develop more cavities because their teeth are more susceptible to decay.

Calcium is also important for life-long health. “We naturally lose bone mass as we age. It’s extra important for older adults to meet their requirements for these nutrients,” says Dr. McNally, who recommends Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide as a helpful source of dietary information about calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus.

Even though adult teeth are no longer developing, they still need to be protected against decay. That’s what calcium can help to do. It also helps strengthen the jaw. Unfortunately, as we get older, the level of calcium in our body declines. A little boost is often needed.

The good news about calcium is that it is widely and deliciously available. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are excellent sources. If calcium is not a big part of your diet or you are lactose intolerant, calcium can be easily taken as a supplement. You’ll find it available in a wide variety of formats including pill form and as a chewable supplement.

The tricky thing about calcium, however, is that it needs a little help to be absorbed into the body. That’s where Vitamin D and phosphorus play an important role.

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium

Produced in our skin, Vitamin D requires ultraviolet light from the sun. This can be difficult to come by in seasonal northern climates like we have in Atlantic Canada. Also, because too much sun exposure presents a risk for skin cancer, many are opting to avoid lengthy exposure. Fortunately, Vitamin D

is available as a supplement that can even be added to food.

On its own, Vitamin D does little for our teeth and bones. Combined with calcium, however, it does wonders. The vitamin acts as a catalyst so that our bones can more easily absorb calcium.

Research also indicates that Vitamin D may play an important role in controlling gum disease. It appears to do this in two ways. First, in tandem with calcium, Vitamin D helps teeth grow and become stronger. Second, it helps to reduce and soothe the inflammation caused by gum disease, or gingivitis. As well, Vitamin D helps keep teeth strong. If children, in particular, don’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin their teeth can become susceptible to cavities and gum disease.

Balance phosphorus and calcium

In many ways, phosphorus serves a similar—and important—purpose to Vitamin D. It works with calcium to build strong teeth and bones, such as your jaw. Without enough phosphorus, the calcium in your body will be wasted. Too little phosphorus also means your teeth are at greater risk of chipping and breaking.

Too often, however, the problem is not a lack of phosphorus in the body but an overabundance. Phosphorus is the most plentiful mineral in our body, and roughly 85 per cent of it is found in our teeth and bones. While diseases such as diabetes and celiac disease, as well as some medications, including diuretics, can affect the level of phosphorus in our body, most people usually get plenty of this mineral from such foods as milk and grains. It is not uncommon for our characteristic Canadian diet, rich in protein and bubbling with carbonated drinks, to have as much as 20 times more phosphorus than calcium. When this happens, the body takes calcium from elsewhere, such our bones.

The more phosphorus you consume, the more calcium is required. It’s a balancing act necessary to ensure healthy teeth and bones.

A work-out for your mouth

Just as you exercise to keep bones and body healthy, your mouth requires a work out. Exercising your jaw bone and the attached muscles helps to build new bone and keep existing bone strong. Yoga, for example, has a number of poses you can do easily and conveniently to give your mouth and jaw some exercise. Here’s one to try:

The Lion

1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back arched slightly and your hands spread open on your legs.

2. Inhale deeply, then force air from your lungs.

3. Open your mouth and eyes as wide as possible.

4. Stick your tongue out of your mouth as far as it will go. Try reaching for your chin.

5. Count to 10 as you slowly bring your tongue back into your mouth.

6. Relax and repeat.

“Infants, children, and youth need calcium to ensure their teeth develop fully and well early in life”

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