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Laura Dorr is the executive editor of DPR's Modern Dental Network.
While stretching out in the sun this summer has its cancer-causing risks, it can also ensure a healthier smile. Research has found that a healthy dose of sunlight could actually help stave off gum disease and increase gum health.
Since sunlight is a significant source of vitamin D, soaking up some extra rays could help prevent the development of vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to increased risk of gingivitis and periodontal disease. In addition to infected gums, periodontal disease can cause the connective tissue holding the teeth in the jawbone to become damaged, which can result in tooth loss.
Past research has found links between vitamin D levels and gum health, including research that discovered that the higher the vitamin D level, the lower the prevalence of gingivitis, and that higher vitamin D levels can impact inflammation of the gums. A 2004 study in the United States also determined that vitamin D affects risk for periodontal disease due to its effect on bone mineral density.
The most recent study1, conducted in Korea by a team of researchers, examined the link between periodontitis and vitamin D levels. 6011 subjects participated in the study, and periodontal conditions were assessed. Researchers examined whether or not vitamin D levels had different effects on smokers. They found that vitamin D deficiency in current smokers had a significant correlation with higher levels of periodontitis, leading to the conclusion that smoking could modify the effects of vitamin D on periodontitis.
While high vitamin D levels do promote healthier gums and lower incidences of gum disease, bronzing out in the sun has its risks.
"There are many dangers of being in the sun too long and these are well documented," said Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. "Always use the appropriate factor sunscreen and don't forget to protect your lips too. Staying well hydrated ... is also important and as a bonus, this is good for your teeth too."
Dr. Carter adds, "While getting a bit of sunshine should not replace your daily oral health routine, like twice daily brushing, it's a simply addition that could make a positive difference."
So, slather on that sunscreen and go fight gum disease, one sunny day at a time!
1The study, entitled “Association between vitamin D deficiency and periodontal status in current smokers,” was published in the journal of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology in May 2015.