Though it’s often associated with good eyesight, clear skin and a strong immune system, vitamin A helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and salivary flow in the mouth. It also helps keep your gums healthy and ensures proper healing. Orange and yellow foods like carrots, mangoes and sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collard greens contain large amounts of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A for use.
As well as helping to keep stress under control, the B vitamins can improve oral health by helping to reduce tongue inflammation and keep canker sores from making a painful appearance. Ottawa-based dietitian Hélène Charlebois says B vitamins are found in poultry and meat, as well as in beans, legumes and green vegetables. “Vegetarians may find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12,” she says, “so they may need a supplement.”
Vitamin C is essential for good periodontal health. It helps build and repair connective tissue, which aids in preventing gum inflammation. For people who are deficient in vitamin C, the body is more likely to have trouble maintaining healthy connective tissue in the gums. This could lead to a serious gum disease called scurvy, explains Dr. Christine Botchway of Edmonton, Alta. Since it is a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps boost the immune system and speed healing. Find it in citrus fruit, broccoli, kale and berries, among many other fruit and vegetable sources.
Sometimes called the sunshine vitamin because it is synthesized in the skin when we’re outside, vitamin D helps regulate blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. In fact, without adequate vitamin D, your body can’t absorb the calcium it needs to keep your bones and developing teeth strong. While 15 minutes of bright sunshine three times a week should give you enough, many people choose supplements to help ensure they’re getting enough. Staggering statistics for residents of the northern U.S. states indicate low vitamin D levels as a result of lack of sunshine.
Most of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, where it helps provide strength and structure. “We don’t want our teeth to get wobbly,” says Dr. Botchway. Calcium is constantly circulating in small amounts through the bloodstream and carefully regulated by your body, so it’s important to ensure that you get enough through your diet – otherwise it is leeched from your bones. Calcium also helps prevent osteoporosis, which can lead to bone fractures and weak bone tissue around the teeth. Dairy products do have calcium added but natural sources of calcium can be found in: sardines, canned salmon, green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, cabbage, almonds, and fortified orange juice and soy milk.
Naturally produced by the body, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) works as a catalyst for metabolism, providing cells with the energy they need to heal wounds, digest food and maintain healthy muscles. “It’s basically like a spark plug that brings things around in the body,” says Charlebois. When it comes to good oral health, coenzyme Q10 appears to help heal, reduce pain and decrease the bleeding associated with gum disease. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the gums. Find it in pork, beef, chicken liver, some vegetable oils (including canola and soybean) and parsley.