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Supplementation Slows Tooth Loss


Calcium and vitamin D supplementation is known to slow the rate of age-related bone loss at various skeletal sites. But it's not been known how the same supplementation affects the jawbone supporting teeth, which some experts believe also becomes fragile with aging. Now scientists funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found strong evidence that tooth loss in the elderly can be minimized if people get their recommended dietary allowance of both nutrients, which is 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 600 international units of vitamin D.

The scientists work in the Calcium and Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Lead researcher Elizabeth A. Krall worked with scientists at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and Boston University.

They looked at 145 healthy volunteers older than 65 who completed a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, as well as a 2-year follow-up after they'd stopped taking the study's supplements. Teeth were counted at 18 months and 5 years. During the course of the randomized study, 13 percent of those who took the supplements lost one or more teeth, but more than twice that number (27 percent) in the placebo group lost teeth in the same period.

During the 2-year follow-up, the same volunteers were divided into two groups: those whose calcium intake was above 1,000 milligrams daily and those whose intake was below. "The high-calcium group had half the risk of tooth loss as those who consumed less than 1,000 milligrams of calcium," says Krall. Though vitamin D is required to absorb calcium, its intake was not independently related to tooth loss.

The percentage of the U.S. population aged 65 and older who are edentulous (have no teeth) is about 33 percent, according to Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, issued in 2000. Tooth loss imposes psychological, social, and physical impairment on those affected.

Studies on nutrition's impact on tooth loss have been few. While more studies are needed to confirm the findings, the implications may lead to an expanded array of treatment and greater emphasis on nutrition education. If nutritional factors can be confirmed, such a relatively inexpensive measure could greatly affect public oral health.—By Rosalie Marion Bliss, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

Elizabeth A. Krall is with Boston University and the USDA-ARS Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Calcium and Bone Metabolism Laboratory, 711 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111; phone (617) 638-6386, fax (617) 638-6381.

"Supplementation Slows Tooth Loss" was published in the December 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


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