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Ultraviolet-B and vitamin D reduce risk of dental caries

Posted on: September 27, 2011   by  Dr William Grant


Large geographical variations in dental health and tooth loss among U.S. adolescents and young adults have been reported since the mid-1800s. The first study finding a north-south gradient in dental caries was a report of men rejected from the draft for the Civil War for lost teeth, from 8 per 1000 men in Kentucky to 25 in New England.

Studies by Clarence Mills and Bion East in the 1930s first linked the geographical variation in prevalence to sunlight exposure. They used data for adolescent males aged between 12 and 14 years from a cross-sectional survey in 1933–1934. East later found that dental caries were inversely related to mean hours of sunlight/year, with those living in the sunny west (3000 hours of sunlight/year) having half as many carious lesions as those in the much less sunny northeast (<2200 hours of sunlight/year).

Several studies conducted in Oregon in the 1950s noted that dental caries prevalence was lower in the sunnier regions of the state than in the cloudy regions, a finding that persisted after considering other factors that affect dental caries rates. The mechanism was attributed to vitamin D through its effects on calcium metabolism.

There were also several studies reported on vitamin D and dental caries in the 1920s and 1930s. May Mellanby and coworkers in Sheffield, England, did studies on the role of vitamin D on teeth in the 1920s. The first experiments were with dogs, where it was found that vitamin D stimulated the calcification of teeth. Subsequently, they studied the effect of vitamin D on dental caries in children, finding a beneficial effect. Additional studies were conducted on children in New York regarding dental caries with respect to season, artificial ultraviolet-B (UVB) irradiance, and oral intake of vitamin D with the finding that it took 800 IU/d to prevent caries effectively.

The mechanism whereby UVB reduces risk of dental caries is through production of vitamin D, followed by induction of cathelicidin, which attacks oral bacteria linked to dental caries. Cathelicidin is well known to fight bacterial infections, with findings reported for several bacterial infections including pneumonia, sepsis, and tuberculosis. Several recent papers reported that cathelicidin reduces the risk of caries, but did not link cathelicidin to vitamin D.

Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations around 30-40 ng/ml (75-100 nmol/L) should significantly reduce the formation of dental caries. (The average white American has a level near 25 ng/ml, while the average black American has a level near 16 ng/ml.) To obtain these levels, oral intake of 1000-4000 IU/d of vitamin D3 or 15-20 minutes in the sun near solar noon in summer with 20-30% body surface area exposed is suggested.

Good dental health also involves a healthy diet low in sugar, regular tooth brushing, and regular dental checkups.

Use of vitamin D appears to be a better option for reducing dental caries than fluoridation of community water supplies, as there are many additional health benefits of vitamin D and a number of adverse effects of water fluoridation such as fluorosis (mottling) of teeth and bones.

5 Responses to Ultraviolet-B and vitamin D reduce risk of dental caries

  1. Brant Cebulla

    Read Dr. Grant’s paper “A review of the role of solar ultraviolet-B irradiance and vitamin D in reducing risk of dental caries” which appeared recently in Dermato-Endocrinology.


  2. Brant Cebulla

    Also check out our patient-friendly summary on dental caries here: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health-conditions/oral-health/dental-caries/

  3. JBG

    Brant, in the summary on dental caries that you mention is the statement, “Vitamin D and calcium cannot reverse dental caries. Caries must be treated by a dentist.”

    This is good, respectable advice. But as a matter of health curiosity, you folks at VDC might be interested as a background project to look into the following, especially if any staff or family member has chronically bad teeth/gums/oral health.

    There is a lady named Ellie Phillips who has come up with a protocol
    to preserve/restore (within limits) dental health using
    over-the-counter products; it has earned a high reputation among its
    users. Today on her blog, Ellie provides a testimonial that includes
    a letter with the name and title of a responsible medical authority
    (on heart disease/stroke) about the usefulness of her system to his
    patients. See:

    for the Sep 28 entry titled: Endorsements of Dr. Ellie’s System.
    Included in the post is a link to a printable (few pages) “Cliffs
    notes” summary of the system. The system is especially advantageous
    for people who are hard up for money and do not have dental insurance.
    You may know a few of those.

    I have no personal experience with the system because my teeth have
    always done fine with ordinary care. But I started some time ago
    using xylitol water (one of her main points); perhaps that is partly
    responsible for the non-progress of the one current cavity I have.

    I do not mention any of this with the intent of influencing you to change what’s in the summary, but only to bring something unusual but interesting and perhaps important to your attention.

    John G

  4. Charles

    Checkout Bill Davenhall’s TED talk on geo-medicine.

    Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live


    “Where you live: It impacts your health as much as diet and genes do, but it’s not part of your medical records. At TEDMED, Bill Davenhall shows how overlooked government geo-data (from local heart-attack rates to toxic dumpsite info) can mesh with mobile GPS apps to keep doctors in the loop. Call it “geo-medicine.””


    Speakers Bill Davenhall: Health and human services expert
    “Bill Davenhall wants to improve physicians’ diagnostic techniques by collecting each patient’s geographic and environmental data, and merging it with their medical records.

    “Why you should listen to him: Bill Davenhall has spent three decades creating useful intelligence out of what seems ordinary demographic and geographic data. In the ’70s he built the first geo-demographic models that helped some of America’s most well-known franchises expand across the nation; in the ’80s he founded a start-up market research company that developed the first national database of estimates for the demand of healthcare services.

    “Davenhall leads the health and human services marketing team at ESRI, the largest geographic information system (GIS) software developer in the world.
    “Geography is destiny in medicine.” Jack Lord, MD

  5. Nandyal

    I’m a doc giving my kids (now in their teens) upper end doses of Vit D with (so far) good dental outcomes, no cavities (and I can’t claim they avoid the sugar as well as I wished. Certainly can’t claim no metal in my mouth). Their dentist is always flummoxed that they should do so well without the Fluoride since I’ve always declined it for them. I hadn’t thought of the Vit D as protective there but now I’m not surprised!
    As the bird in Aladdin always said, “Why am I not surprised?!”

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