One thing keeps me continually energized as I travel the world educating dental professionals is this: We still, all of us, have so much to learn about the human body, physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, development, nutrition, and how the entire system works together to enhance or hamper lifelong systemic health.
Take our humble friend, vitamin D.
This January, when the New England Journal of Medicine released the results of a 25,000-patient tracking study that placed the benefits of a daily dose in question for cancer risks, heart attack, and stroke, this nutrient (which is manufactured by the body in sunlight, but also occurs in food) may have lost a bit of its luster as a preventive wonder.
But those researchers didn’t consider the effect of vitamin D on fetal development.
A Few Months Affect Everything—For Years
Now there’s new evidence about prenatal vitamin D, and it may be a game-changer. Writing in JAMA Pediatrics, Danish researcher Hans Bisgaard, MD, reported that children whose mothers took high doses of vitamin D during pregnancy have a 50% lower risk of tooth enamel defects—in both their deciduous (“baby”) and in their permanent teeth.
I find this result stunning. If, in fact, the presence of abundant vitamin D while a fetus is developing can affect an individual’s bone and enamel health for many subsequent years, we have just opened a vast horizon and I cannot wait to understand the mechanisms through which this occurs.
Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charsleston, said “a 50% reduction in enamel abnormalities is a pretty significant finding,” (and that may actually qualify for the final round of Understatement of the Year).
The Danish study randomly assigned 738 pregnant women to two groups. One group received a placebo, and the other received 2,400 i.u. of vitamin D from week 24 through one week after giving birth (all women, including placebo group, received 400 iu as a minimum standard of care).
After six years, the children received dental exams. A total of 15.1 percent of the children of women in the high-dose vitamin D group showed enamel defects in their erupted permanent teeth; 27.5% of the children born to women in the control group showed enamel defects. (The study authors noted in their introduction that up to 38 percent of school-age children overall are affected by enamel defects.)
Vitamin D is critical to bone and enamel mineralization in the human body; this study may help to connect yet another dot in the enamel developmental cycle.
As we continue learning more about the role of maternal nutrition in lifelong health and wellness, vitamin D appears to play as much a role before we are born as it does afterward. The study’s authors wrote, “This suggests prenatal high-dose vitamin D supplementation as a preventive intervention to reduce the prevalence of enamel defects with a significant potential effect on dental health.”
Bruce Hollis put it more plainly. Speaking about recommended levels of vitamin D for pregnant women from OB/GYNs, he simply said, “They should be recommending more vitamin D.”
It’s hard to argue with his conclusion, based on the evidence right now, but then, science is always uncovering new evidence. That’s what makes it so exciting, so rewarding, and so important to keep up with on a life-long basis.