The therapeutic effects of calcium have been getting significant media attention lately, but dentists have long known of the need, especially for women, to consume the mineral for general overall well-being and dental health.
"Calcium is a critical ingredient of healthy teeth, which begin developing before birth," says Vicki Grandinetti, D.D.S., a general dentist who practices on Chicago's Northwest Side. "That's why pregnant women need plenty of food high in calcium every day in order to start their babies on a lifetime of good dental health. Calcium also fortifies teeth during childhood and helps to keep them intact throughout life."
The alveolar (jaw) bone depends on calcium in order to maintain its form and function. Scientific studies have linked low calcium intake over a long period of time with alveolar bone loss. Some research suggests that alveolar bone loss also might be one of the first signs of osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become weak, brittle and fracture-prone.
"Once teeth have been lost, further alveolar bone loss often occurs," says Dr. Grandinetti. "Loss of alveolar bone can create problems with denture fit and retention, problems that can, in turn, lead to still more bone loss."
According to Dr. Grandinetti, the best sources for calcium include milk and other dairy foods. Other good sources include canned sardines, salmon with edible bones, tofu (soybean curd) and dark green, leafy vegetables, especially collard greens and kale.
Though food is the best source of calcium, Dr. Grandinetti says that calcium supplements also are available over-the-counter or by prescription. She suggests that these products be used under a dentist's or physician's guidelines.
According to recent research from Columbia University, calcium supplements can help soothe the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. In a recent study, women who took 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day reduced PMS symptoms by more than 50 percent. The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Half of the women in the study were randomly assigned to consume daily four chewable calcium carbonate tablets containing a total of 1,200 mg of calcium. The other half were given four chewable tablets without calcium. Neither the participants nor physicians conducting the study knew which women were in which group.
The study, which is one of the largest ever to examine PMS, found that calcium carbonate significantly reduced four key categories of symptoms -- mood swings, bloating, food cravings and pain. In 15 of 17 other common symptoms, such as low backache and depression, the incidence of pain or discomfort were reduced by taking calcium.
"I was genuinely happy to hear the results of this study and I hope they stand up as they are scrutinized further," says Dr. Grandinetti. "This is another reason to get calcium into your diet. I think many women will pay attention to this news and one of the good results will be better oral health."
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