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Nutrition Can Curb Tooth Loss in Elderly

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By Rosalie Marion Bliss • • January 6, 2003

Scientists funded by the Agricultural Research Service have found strong evidence that tooth loss in the elderly can be minimized if people get their recommended dietary allowance of calcium and vitamin D.

About 33 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 and older have no teeth, according to "Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General," issued in 2000. The recommended daily intake for dietary calcium is 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams (mg). For dietary vitamin D, 400 to 600 international units (IU) are recommended daily.

The scientists work in the Calcium and Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. Lead researcher Elizabeth A. Krall worked with scientists at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and Boston University.

They looked at 145 healthy volunteers older than 65 who completed a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, as well as a 2-year follow-up after discontinuation of the study's supplements. Teeth were counted twice: after 18 months, and again after 5 years. During the course of the randomized study, 13 percent of those who took the supplements lost one or more teeth, but more than twice that number (27 percent) in the placebo group lost teeth in the same time period.

What's more, during the two-year follow-up, those who consumed more than 1,000 mg of calcium daily had half the risk of tooth loss as those who consumed less than 1,000 mg.

Tooth loss imposes psychological, social and physical impairment on those affected. While more studies are needed to confirm these findings, the implications may lead to an expanded array of treatments and greater emphasis on nutrition education.

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