Dental X-rays Show Vitamin D Deficiency

McMaster anthropologists have found that human teeth hold important information about Vitamin D deficiency which can be identified by a dental X-ray. The researchers had previously discovered that human teeth hold a detailed and permanent record of Vitamin D deficiency. The teeth show microscopic deformities in dentin. This is preserved by enamel which protect teeth from breaking down. Vitamin D deficiency often occurs when a human does not get enough exposure to sunlight.

This work is useful for examining the teeth of people who lived years ago to see if they were ever deprived of sunlight and had Vitamin D deficiency. An issue when looking for teeth deformities currently is that that a tooth must be cut open and there are limited teeth the researchers had access to. To avoid wasting specimens, the researchers tried to find a way to isolate teeth for further study. Using X-rays to study the pulp horns, the dark shadow at the center of the image of a tooth, the researchers found a consistent and recognizable pattern.

The pulp shape in a healthy person’s tooth resembles an arch topped by two cat ears. The pulp shape of a person who has had a deficiency of Vitamin D is asymmetrical and constricted, and looks like the profile of a hard-backed chair.  Vitamin D deficiency can have adverse health implications and being able to know who has had a deficiency can help identify people who may have ongoing issues to prevent worse damage. The researchers feel that if a dental X-rays shows there might be a Vitamin D deficiency then a later blood test can be used to confirm it.  Detecting a problem early in a person’s life could prevent future problems with Vitamin-D related bone deficiency. Knowing about Vitamin D deficiency can determine what is the best balance between protecting people from harmful sunlight and making sure they get enough sun.

It is interesting that even though this work started off exploring ancient humans who have been did for a number of years, it is still applicable today. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased chronic headaches, see Making sure you have enough Vitamin D can also help prevent future gum infections, see Even though blood tests can currently detect if someone has a Vitamin D deficiency, these are not always performed and having readily available dental x-rays may allow a dentist to play a role in telling patients if they need additional Vitamin D supplements and/or exposure to natural sunlight.

Source: Lori D’Ortenzio and et. al., The rachitic tooth: The use of radiographs as a screening technique, International Journal of Paleopathology, 2017.

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