"What Your Teeth Are Telling You About the Health of Your Brain" (Part II of IV) by Megan Barnett

 Often my role as a parent merges with my role as a practitioner due to the nature of my work which focuses on the underlying mechanisms of optimal health and longevity. As a mother and a nutritionist, I approach my kids and clients similarly with a curiosity that seeks to understand how symptoms tell a story about biochemical processes that lie within the blind spots of the body. This approach, based in functional medicine, aims to piece together the clues that our bodies offer in an effort to uncover the root causes of imbalance. For a practitioner like me, this means that nothing is ignored and even the smallest sign might be the hint that offers answers.

So, after another disappointing visit to the dentist, my son’s consistent cavities prompted my most recent topic of research as I became concerned with what his fragile teeth might be telling me about nutrient deficiencies and his health risks. What I found yielded relevant information for my loved ones and clients. Nutritional deficiencies can wreak havoc with the dynamic balance of multiple systems.

The increasing diagnoses of cognitive disorders, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and similar mental dysfunctions in Western cultures has many of my clients interested in how they can stay sharp and mentally healthy throughout their lives. In order to prevent decline, it is imperative to know what each unique body needs to facilitate optimal health because it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Paying attention to seemingly unrelated signs and symptoms of overall health can help direct preventative care. Last week, I introduced the connection between a person’s tendency towards cavities and poor oral health to their current or future mental health. In continuing my research on the dietary connections between the health of the mouth and the brain, I offer two more factors that connect the two. It seems zinc is not the only micronutrient that plays an important role in the body’s ability to maintain healthy teeth and a healthy brain. It turns out that Vitamin D and
B6 are also significant.

B6 (pyridoxine) - B6 deficiency is linked to a higher susceptibility to cavities. While supplementation of B6 did not protect against cavities when subjects were fed a high-sugar diet, it decreased the incidence in those eating a regular diet.3  It is unknown if B6 increases the integrity of the tooth or shifts the oral flora, nonetheless, deficiency increases risk.3 If you are B6 deficient, your teeth may or may not suffer depending on other nutritional and lifestyle factors, but beware that B6 deficiency is also linked to depression, insomnia, irritability, confusion, short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, epilepsy, and nervousness.3,5 A qualified practitioner can interpret blood tests looking for plasma PLP (20nmol/L is considered normal).6 If you are suspicious, increase your intake of foods rich in B6. Foods that are rich in pyridoxine include tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, potatoes, sunflower seeds, spinach and banana.4

Vitamin D – Vitamin D has many vital roles in the body, and one reason that it may affect the mouth is that it is responsible for the movement of calcium from the intestines into the bloodstream resulting in calcium availability for the teeth and bones (with the help of molecules such as Vitamin K2 and other biochemical processes).6 Vitamin D3  supplementation was linked to a 47% decreased risk of dental caries in a meta-analysis from 2014 whether D levels were raised by UV light, D2 or D3.7 A case-control study from 2013 found that children with severe dental caries had a much higher incidence of low Vitamin D levels.8 As your oral health suffers, your brain may be at greater risk. Severe vitamin D deficiency is associated with dementia and mild cognitive impairment in older Korean adults.9 The 2012 Iowa Women’s Health Study found that older women that failed to meet daily dietary intake of at least 400IU of Vitamin D had significantly lower mental health related quality of life.10 A summit of international experts agreed that inadequate intake of Vitamin D is strongly associated with cognitive decline and dementia.11 If you are concerned about your Vitamin D levels, ask your doctor to add it to your next lab panel. In the meantime, try to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight, without sunscreen, per day and if that is not an option, increase dietary intake. Foods that contain the highest levels of Vitamin D are wild salmon, sardines, tuna, fortified cow’s milk, pastured eggs and shiitake mushrooms.

The story does not end here. Next week, in Part III of this series, I will explore the benefits of green tea and probiotics on your mouth and your brain. Stay tuned…

And if you missed it, make sure to catch Part I of the Series.

  1. Uçkardeş, Y., Tekçiçek, M., Ozmert, E. N., & Yurdakök, K. (2009). The effect of systemic zinc supplementation on oral health in low socioeconomic level children. The Turkish Journal Of Pediatrics, 51(5), 424-428.
  2. Cerklewski, F. L. (1981). Effect of suboptimal zinc nutrition during gestation and lactation on rat molar tooth composition and dental caries. The Journal Of Nutrition, 111(10), 1780-1783.
  3. Gaby, A. (Ed.). (2011). Nutritional medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
  4. Worlds healthiest foods.com
  5. Ahmad, I., Mirza, T., Qadeer, K., Nazim, U., & Vaid, F. H. (2013). Vitamin B6: deficiency diseases and methods of analysis. Pakistan Journal Of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 26(5), 1057-1069.
  6. Aloia, J. F., Dhaliwal, R., Shieh, A., Mikhail, M., Fazzari, M., Ragolia, L., & Abrams, S. A. (2014). Vitamin D supplementation increases calcium absorption without a threshold effect. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 99(3), 624-631. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.067199
  7. Hujoel, P. P. (2013). Vitamin D and dental caries in controlled clinical trials: systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 71(2), 88-97. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00544.x
  8. Schroth, R. J., Levi, J. A., Sellers, E. A., Friel, J., Kliewer, E., & Moffatt, M. K. (2013). Vitamin D status of children with severe early childhood caries: a case-control study. BMC Pediatrics, 13174. doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-174
  9. Moon, J. H., Lim, S., Han, J. W., Kim, K. M., Choi, S. H., Kim, K. W., & Jang, H. C. (2015). Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia: the Korean Longitudinal Study on Health and Aging (KLoSHA). Clinical Endocrinology, 83(1), 36-42. doi:10.1111/cen.12733
  10. Motsinger, S., Lazovich, D., MacLehose, R. F., Torkelson, C. J., & Robien, K. (2012). Vitamin D intake and mental health-related quality of life in older women: The Iowa Women's Health Study. Maturitas, 71267-273. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.12.005
  11. Annweiler, C., Dursun, E., Féron, F., Gezen-Ak, D., Kalueff, A. V., Littlejohns, T., & ... Beauchet, O. (2015). 'Vitamin D and cognition in older adults': updated international recommendations. Journal Of Internal Medicine, 277(1), 45-57. doi:10.1111/joim.12279

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Megan Barnett works as an educator and coach facilitating the incorporation of healthy behaviors into her clients’ daily lives using nutrition, lifestyle, and mindful eating to promote overall wellness and optimal functioning. Megan has a BS in Dietetics from Kansas State University, is a certified yoga instructor and is currently completing a Master's degree in Nutrition and Functional Medicine at University of Western States in Portland, Oregon.  www.pepnutritioncoach.com