there are a few key vitamins and minerals that support the health of the mouth and should be considered in one’s oral health regimen. These are vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as five minerals: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. Finding sources of these vitamins and minerals in our food is always preferable to bottled supplements. Here we remind readers of the following:
Strive for balance and avoid excesses.
Eat a variety of foods.
Paint a colorful palette with fruits and vegetables.
Some vitamins are water-soluble and some are fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. We focus on A and D here. Each can be stored in the body when ingested in sufficient quantities. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are not stored. Getting vitamins from real food versus getting them from bottled supplements is generally a surefire way of avoiding excessive exposure and accumulation.
Generally, vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene, help to maintain healthy skin, mucous membranes, salivary flow, and tooth formation. Vitamin A and beta-carotene are fat soluble. There are many sources of vitamin A, including yoghurt, eggs, fish, and fish oils, as well as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, acorn squash, kale, broccoli, and apricots. We can also look to watercress, red raspberry leaves, and herbs such as gotu kola (Centella asiatica), parsley, horseradish root, and alfalfa (Medicago sativa).
There are many B vitamins, and we distinguish between them by number and common name. When it comes to the mouth, a few B vitamins stand out: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyri- doxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cyanocobal- amin/cobal-amin). B vitamins help to prevent tongue inflammation, cheilosis (scaling and fissuring of the corners of the mouth),
inflammation of the mucous membranes, discoloration of gum tissues, chronic periodontitis and yeast infections. B vitamins also help heal oral tissues. In general, reliable sources for B vitamins include the examples listed below, as well as kombucha, bananas, chili peppers, tempeh, and molasses. Specific sources of B vitamins are found in the following foods:
Vitamin C has long been associated with the health of the mouth and the moderation of periodontal disease. In the eighteenth century Scottish physician James Lind discov- ered that scurvy, a condition that plagued sailors of the time, was linked to vitamin C deficiency, and he recom- mended citrus fruit, along with various other nutritional and hygienic protocols. More recently, Nobel Prize– winning chemist Linus Pauling suggested that vitamin C is a powerhouse with amazing, wide-ranging health benefits. Vitamin C is a complex of compounds that includes ascorbic acid. It is an effective antioxidant and has a host of other actions that promote and sustain health.
Vitamin D supports the health of the immune system. It strengthens tooth enamel and assists in the absorption of calcium, helping to build strong bones and teeth and therefore a vitamin D deficiency can manifest as depressed immunity, fragile bones and teeth, or, also in the mouth, a metallic or bitter taste or a burning sensation or dryness. Sunshine is key when it comes to building vitamin D.
However, many of us live in areas where even during the summer months our exposure to the sun is relatively lim- ited. Milk products and fatty fishes such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, and eel are excellent sources of vitamin D, as well as alfalfa, egg yolks, and fish.
Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth. Having a healthy digestive system is essential if we are to have sufficient acid in the digestive tract to enable absorp- tion of calcium. Absorption depends upon vitamin D as well as magnesium. Milk and cheese are reliable sources of calcium.
We can absorb some calcium from mineral-rich leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, and lamb’s-quarter, although when they are cooked, the presence of oxalic acid limits absorption. Other good sources of calcium include tofu, al- monds, alfalfa, red clover, red raspberry leaves, chamomile, and shrimp.
For most people, iron, like magnesium, can be found in blood cells throughout the body. As a component of red blood cells, iron not only helps nourish our cells, it also assists in the removal of waste; namely, carbon dioxide. Iron promotes healthy skin, hair, nails, and tissues, including the gums. Iron is necessary for our tissues to be well-oxygenated. Iron deficiencies manifest in the mouth as pale tissues, sores, inflammation, or infection.
Animal meats provide a readily available source of iron, as do whole grains, tofu, spinach, alfalfa, watercress, fennel, kidney beans, parsley, quinoa, clams, shrimp, and other seafood.
In all plants, magnesium is right in the middle of every single chlorophyll molecule, aiding in the conversion of sunlight to energy. It’s vitally important for humans, too. We hear a lot about strong bones and teeth, and it is calcium that is most frequently associated with this discussion. However, magnesium is certainly as important as calcium, and they work together. Magnesium, like calcium, is an alkaline element, and a plentiful intake of calcium and magnesium, each in a relative balance with the other, is important for the health of our bones, teeth, and brain function, as well as the cardiovascular, hormonal, and nervous systems. The right balance of calcium and magnesium is vital, as too much calcium contributes to tightness, sometimes spasms, while magnesium promotes opening and relaxation.
Our bodies produce almost as much phosphorus as they do calcium. Together these minerals support the health of the teeth and the bones. An absence of phosphorus in the diet can lead to a calcium insufficiency, so care needs to be taken to look for dietary sources of both of these minerals. For example, some nitrogen-containing bisphos- phonate medications dispensed for osteoporosis result in bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw, or BRONJ (see chapter 10). Sound dietary sources of phosphorus include dairy products such as milk and cheese, as well as eggs, nuts, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, red raspberry leaves, watercress, meats, poultry, and fish.
Zinc is necessary for wound healing and for the health of our mucous membranes and our skin. Zinc also is an important cofactor, enabling the optimal function of many bodily processes.
Zinc deficiencies can result in inhibitions in taste and smell. Zinc concentrations are often highest in protein-rich animal-based foods. When derived from meats, poultry, and shellfish, the bioavailability of zinc is not limited. However, when we rely on hulls, nuts, seeds, and grains as sources of zinc, the presence of phytic acid will indeed limit bioavailability if these sources are not soaked prior to consumption. Other sources of zinc include peanuts.
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