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Zinc and Its Role in Oral Health

Female Cleaning Teeth

What nutrients are essential for good oral health? Calcium and vitamin D typically come to mind first. You may also be aware that vitamin C is essential for healthy gums. However, other nutrients also play a vital role in dental health. Zinc, a mineral that your body requires in trace amounts, affects oral health in several different ways. Keep reading for a closer look.

How Does Zinc Affect Oral Health?
Zinc has a number of roles in the body. It is involved in the function of more than 300 enzymes, which are all essential for your body to carry out normal biochemical reactions. It is also involved in immunity, builds certain tissues in a structural sense, and helps with nutrient metabolism. The following are a few ways zinc is specifically known to promote healthy teeth and gums.

Antimicrobial Activity
Tooth decay and gum disease are both caused by the proliferation of bacteria in the oral cavity. Zinc helps the body fight these bacteria. Zinc also stops oral bacteria from releasing so much acid by interfering with their metabolic processes. Since tooth decay is ultimately caused by acidic bacterial secretions, zinc helps protect against cavities.

Enamel-Strengthening Activity
Your tooth enamel is made from a substance called calcium hydroxyapatite. This substance has a crystalline structure. Zinc helps determine the exact crystalline structure that your enamel develops. Those who have ample zinc in their diets tend to have stronger enamel that is more resistant to decay and damage over the years.

Dentin-Strengthening Activity
The dentin, which is the layer of the teeth that lies under the enamel, also contains some zinc. The zinc helps protect the dentin from becoming demineralized. In other words, zinc helps keep the dentin hard and strong.

How Can You Tell Whether You’re Consuming Enough Zinc?
A true zinc deficiency can cause serious symptoms such as loss of appetite, hair loss, and skin lesions.  Zinc deficiency is rare in healthy individuals.

However, people with gastrointestinal diseases, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may become deficient in zinc because their digestive system is not absorbing zinc well. People with sickle cell disease, alcoholics, pregnant women are also at an increased risk for zinc deficiency. If you fall into one of these categories, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist to ensure your zinc needs are being met.

Vegetarians and others who follow restrictive diets are also at an increased risk for zinc deficiency. To assess whether you’re getting enough zinc, try using a nutrition tracking app. Doctors suggest 11 mg of zinc for adult males as their daily recommended allowance (RDA) of the nutrient. They suggest 8 mg for adult females. Vegetarians may need 50% more zinc than the RDA since the zinc found in plant foods is not as easily absorbed.

What Are Some Good Sources of Zinc?
If you find that you are not getting enough zinc in your diet, try consuming more of these foods.

  • Oysters: Six oysters contain about 32 mg of zinc, which is far above the recommended daily intake.
  • Lentils: 100 grams of cooked lentils provide 12 percent of the daily value.
  • Cashews: A 28-gram serving contains 15 percent of the daily value.
  • Cheese: 100 gram of cheddar cheese provide 28 percent of the daily value.

In general, most nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products, and meats are good sources of zinc. Do not take a zinc supplement unless your doctor recommends that you do so. Too much zinc can have detrimental effects such as impaired immunity and diarrhea.

Zinc is a trace mineral whose importance in dental health is often understated. Pay closer attention to your zinc intake, and your teeth and gums should thank you. Make sure you pair this advice with regular visits to the dentist. Contact Dr. Jerry F. Maymi & Associates to make your appointment.