Together with calcium, vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) is vital for your child’s developing bones and teeth, and for tooth and bone health throughout life. But it can be easy to develop a vitamin D deficiency. Does your child have an adequate intake of this vital nutrient? What’s the best way to get it? Here’s what you need to know.
What are the dietary sources of vitamin D?
Despite its importance for healthy teeth and bones, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. In fact, many people worldwide have some level of deficiency of this nutrient.
In the United States, many kinds of milk, juice, bread, yogurt, and cereal are fortified with this vitamin, but even a regular daily intake of these foods doesn’t don’t provide a sufficient daily amount. Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines; in egg yolks, and in beef liver, but not in significant amounts. So whether you follow a vegan or non-vegan diet, it’s important to try to get enough of this vitamin!
Are there other ways to get vitamin D?
When we’re outside, our exposed skin and our eyes help us absorb vitamin D from the UVB rays of direct sunlight. This is one of the easiest ways to increase your vitamin D intake. It’s important to remember that when you apply sunscreen to your skin, it keeps your skin from absorbing these vitamin-rich rays (but yes, you should still use it after you absorb a small daily amount of sun). Limited vitamin D intake from this natural source is something to be aware of if your child plays indoors rather than outdoors.
Your child’s pediatrician can also guide you regarding dietary supplements if they are needed..
How much of this vitamin does a growing child need each day?
For infants up to 12 months old, Cleveland Clinic recommends a daily intake of 400 IU (international units, which are frequently listed on nutrition labels) of vitamin D. In breast milk, it is found only in small amounts, while infant formulas include varying amounts. For this reason, it’s it’s best to discuss your baby’s nutritional needs with your pediatrician.
For those ages 1-70, the vitamin D recommendation increases to 600 IU each day. (Those older than age 70 may need more than this, and should ask their physicians about the right amount.)
During the summer, a general recommendation for daily sunlight exposure (not through a window, but outside) for people with light skin is 15 minutes without sunglasses or sunscreen; people with darker skin may need 30 minutes or more. In the winter, these amounts increase depending on distance from the equator.
What could happen if my child doesn’t get enough vitamin D?
According to Cleveland Clinic, children with severe vitamin D deficiency can develop rickets. Its symptoms include bone pain, muscle weakness, joint deformities, and incorrect growth patterns resulting from bent or bowed bones.
Because children need vitamin D to develop healthy teeth as well as healthy bones, a lack of this vital nutrient can also lead to defective enamel development, a higher risk of dental caries (cavities), and problems with the development of oral bones.
In addition, a 2022 study suggests that a deficiency of this vitamin may be associated with insomnia and poor sleep quality in children and adolescents. Sleep issues in adults have been associated with a higher risk of gum inflammation. Left untreated, this condition can lead to gum disease, which may lead to more serious health issues.
How can I help my child avoid these problems and develop strong teeth and bones?
The three most basic steps you can take are:
- Encourage your child to spend enough time outside each day absorbing sunlight (and then be sure to apply sunscreen as needed)
- Make sure they eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep each night
- Be sure they see the pediatrician and their dentist regularly
If your child develops sleep issues, if you notice problems with their bones or teeth, or if they show signs of pain or muscle weakness, it’s important to tell both your child’s pediatrician and their dentist, since one condition could indicate a need to screen for others. Your child’s healthcare providers can provide further guidance on possible remedies.
Is it time for your child’s next dental visit? Schedule an appointment now!