How Important is Calcium to Teeth?
Calcium is an essential nutrient important for cell viability and specific functions in the body. Most of the body calcium is found in bone tissue in the form of hydroxyapatite, an inorganic crystal made up of calcium and phosphorus.
While it may seem since bones have a lot of calcium, and teeth, which are also hard like bones, also have a lot of calcium, but that’s actually not the case. Only a minimal amount of calcium is present in the teeth. Teeth are not like bones, which are made of collagen, a protein that is a living growing tissue.
Bones also contain cells called osteoblasts that can create new bone growth. Teeth don’t have the ability to regenerate themselves. If a cavity could repair itself, that would be great, but they can’t – so thank God for dentists!
The hardest tissue in the human body
The crowns of our teeth are covered by dental enamel, composed of 92–96% minerals, it is the hardest tissue in the human body.
Teeth have the same calcium phosphate mineral that is in bones, but the hydroxyapatite crystals in your teeth are “carbonated” containing trace minerals such as strontium, magnesium, lead, and fluoride. These make hydroxyapatite “calcium-deficient” and more soluble than pure hydroxyapatite.
This is why we say there is only a minimal amount of calcium in the teeth. However, calcium is very important to your teeth. Why? Because calcium helps to maintain the mineral composition of your teeth.
The critical pH
Your teeth are subject to both demineralization and remineralization, dependent on a number of dietary factors and the pH of the oral environment.
Enamel demineralization takes place below a pH of about 5.5 (the critical pH), which is rated as slightly acidic on the pH scale of 0 to 14. A strong cup of black coffee has a pH of around 5.5. This is why adding milk or cream, which has calcium, is a good idea to reduce the acidity.
When this critical pH is reached, your saliva and plaque fluid (the sticky film that constantly forms on your teeth) stop being saturated with calcium and phosphate. At this point, the hydroxyapatite in dental enamel will start to dissolve. When enamel dissolves – cavities evolve.
Saliva neutralizes acid raising the pH of the tooth surface making it alkaline above the critical pH, promoting remineralization. The balance between remineralization and demineralization (and high and low pH) is favored by consuming less fermentable sugar along with twice-daily brushing with fluoridated toothpaste.
The concentration of calcium in plaque influences the demineralization of tooth enamel and thus, the risk of caries. The greater the concentration of calcium, the lower the rate of demineralization, and the risk of dental decay. Also, the greater the concentration of calcium in plaque, the greater the fall in pH that can be tolerated before demineralization occurs.
Main sources of calcium
There are many foods that are naturally rich in calcium. You can also get it from calcium-fortified foods and beverages, and supplements. Health professionals and medical experts agree that food naturally rich in calcium is the best source. Many Americans have diets with significantly less calcium than recommended, which is around 1000 to 1200 milligrams a day for adults
We can list foods that have a lot of calcium. However, just because a food contains calcium, we need to consider its bioavailability, the fraction consumed that’s absorbed and utilized by the body. The bioavailability of calcium varies greatly among various types of foods.
For a food to be a good calcium source a standard serving should contain at least 30 mg of absorbable calcium. A serving may list a certain amount of calcium, but you most likely are not going to absorb all of it. Depending on the type of food and other physiological conditions of your body and age, it can vary.
Good sources with bioavailable calcium include most milk products, most types of tofu, dark green leafy cabbage family of vegetables, turnip greens, and canned fish such as salmon and sardines that include bones.
Conversely, chemicals in food found naturally in some plants, such as phytic acid and oxalic acid, bind to calcium and can inhibit its absorption. Foods with high levels of oxalic acid include spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, and beans.
Supplements for Calcium
For those who don’t like either milk, leafy greens, or tofu, using supplements is vital to get adequate calcium for your teeth. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the best forms to take.
Calcium bioavailability is dependent on vitamin D. It helps your body absorb calcium and boost mineral density, so an adequate amount of vitamin D is needed to get the most out of your calcium intake.
Vitamin D is made naturally when you are exposed to sunlight. But many of us nowadays don’t get enough exposure to the sun. Often you will find calcium supplements that include vitamin D. You can also get it from fatty fish, canned tuna, and some mushrooms.
Like vitamin D, potassium improves mineral density in teeth and bones. Combined with magnesium it can prevent blood from becoming too acidic, which can leach calcium from your teeth and bones.
Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, a protein that promotes the accumulation of calcium in your bones and teeth. So, adding this supplement to your diet is also beneficial to ensure your teeth are adequately protected by the mineralization function of calcium.
Healthy living equals healthy teeth
We all should know by now the importance of regular brushing, flossing, and all the other recommendations dentist always suggest to keep your teeth healthy. But those alone won’t ensure dental perfection. Taking care of your general health and sticking to a healthy diet is the key to having the most perfect smile.
Whether it is ensuring you get ample calcium in your diet or avoiding sugar, there are many things you can do to keep your visits to the dentist to a minimum. Of course, everyone should see their dentist at least twice a year.
Also, if you are taking any medications, consult with your doctor about taking any of the supplements mentioned here, as they can affect how they work in your body.