Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 99 percent of calcium is stored in your teeth and bones.
Because it plays such a critical role in the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, your body’s need for calcium begins long before you are born and continues throughout your life. But there is another special relationship between calcium and teeth that may surprise you.
Calcium and Teeth
Tooth enamel is mostly made up of calcium phosphate molecules called hydroxyapatite and is the hardest tissue in the body—even harder than bone. It’s this toughness that helps protect your teeth against acids in your mouth that cause decay. When conditions are right, hydroxyapatite also has the ability to repair itself after an acid attack.
To ensure their unborn babies are getting enough calcium for healthy bone and tooth development, women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding should consume 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day, explains the NIH. Children between the ages of 1 and 3 need 700 mg of calcium per day, while children between 4 and 8 years old should consume 1000 mg. Because of rapid growth, however, the calcium requirement jumps to 1,300 mg for tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 18. These recommended daily allowances meet the nutrient requirements of almost all healthy individuals, according to the source.
Maintaining calcium levels throughout life can help prevent osteoporosis and bone loss around your teeth as you age. This is why men and women over the age of 70 should take in 1,200 mg of calcium daily.
Because calcium in dairy is readily absorbed by your body, the NIH’s Medline Plus recommends dairy products—such as milk, yogurt and cheese—as your best source of calcium. One cup of non-fat milk includes almost 300 mg of calcium, making it easy to meet your daily requirements by drinking three or four glasses of milk daily. A 2-ounce piece of Swiss cheese has 530 mg of calcium.
But calcium is also found in non-dairy foods, such as sardines, salmon, oysters, dried beans and broccoli, as well as fortified foods like tofu and certain cereals. Orange juices, fortified with calcium, provide 261 mg per 6-ounce glass, and a 3-ounce portion of almonds contains 210 mg of calcium.
Lactose is a sugar in milk that many people have trouble digesting. If you’re lactose intolerant or vegan and don’t eat dairy, however, you can still get your recommended amount of calcium. Lactose-free and calcium-fortified products are available at most grocery stores, and you can also focus on eating nondairy calcium-rich foods.
While calcium supplements are an option, always talk to your doctor first to determine the best form and safest dosage. As with any supplement, more is not always better; too much calcium over a period of time can increase your risk for kidney stones.
Topical Fluoride and Calcium
Dentists recommend topical fluorides, such as fluoride toothpastes and rinses, because the combination of fluoride with the calcium in enamel strengthens teeth and can helps repair early decay.
Calcium found in amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP) products also has the capacity to strengthen and rebuild tooth enamel. It also improves the strengthening abilities of fluoride. ACP can be found in sugar-free gums, lozenges, toothpastes, mouth rinses, tooth-whitening systems and fluoride varnishes.
The Academy of General Dentistry says that eating dairy—especially cheese—can limit the effects of harmful acids on your teeth. Besides stimulating saliva that aids in diluting cavity-causing acids from your teeth, eating cheese raises the pH in your mouth, which can help defend against cavities. Additionally, various compounds found in dairy adhere to enamel, providing a protective coating and enamel repair.
The relationship between calcium and teeth is important one. A calcium-rich diet can help fight dental disease and ensure strong bones for you and your family.