Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, and 99% of total body calcium is found in the teeth and bones. The International Journal of Scientific Research (IJSR) reports that calcium is found in teeth as hydroxyapatite, which is made up of both calcium and phosphate. Calcium and phosphate combine during tooth development to form the characteristically hard tooth structure. Vitamin D plays a key role in balancing calcium and phosphate absorption in the body, and in promoting calcium absorption during tooth development. In baby teeth, the formation of hydroxyapatite (mineralisation) occurs at around four months in utero. In permanent teeth, this occurs from around the time of birth until 13 years of age, including the third molar (wisdom) teeth.
Hypocalcemia, a calcium deficiency disorder, is a medical condition that occurs when calcium levels in the blood are low.
If calcium levels are too low, this can lead to osteoporosis (a medical condition where bones become weak from a calcium or vitamin D deficiency, or due to hormonal changes) and osteopenia (a medical condition characterised by a decrease in bone density, which can be a precursor to osteoporosis).
In South Africa, the recommended daily calcium intake for healthy individuals is 1000 mg for women aged 19-49 and men aged 19-69. This recommendation increases to 1200 mg for women over 50 years and men over 70 years.
Calcium deficiency affects postmenopausal women, women with amenorrhea, vegans, and people who are lactose intolerant. Medical News Today reports that in 2015, 3.5 billion people were at risk for calcium deficiency worldwide.
If you have any questions regarding your calcium intake, please consult your dietician.
Calcium deficiency symptoms may not be easy to detect at first. These symptoms may include:
- Numbness around the mouth
- Numbness in the hands or feet
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weak or brittle nails
- Osteoporosis symptoms (back pain, stooped posture)
Osteoporosis can affect the jawbone (alveolar bone) and cause symptoms such as tooth mobility and possibly tooth loss, as well as resulting in poor-fitting dentures.
What you eat is extremely important to help maintain optimal calcium levels in your body and mouth. Calcium-rich foods include: milk, cheese, yoghurt, sardines, salmon, kale, broccoli, spinach, calcium-fortified beverages, calcium-based foods, nuts, sesame seeds, fortified cereals, and beans. Eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods can help you get the level of calcium you need, and help to protect your teeth by maintaining optimal levels of calcium in your saliva.
We need calcium in our saliva to drive the remineralisation of the teeth following acid attacks that result in the loss of minerals from the teeth (demineralisation).
We can minimise acid attacks by reducing the amount and frequency of sugary foods and drinks, along with acidic beverages, in our diet.
It is recommended to brush your teeth twice a day. Flossing once a day before bedtime will help remove plaque and food debris between the teeth and at the gumline. Consult your doctor to check calcium levels and determine whether you need a calcium supplement to return to your healthy and best self.