We’ve finally ushered in a new year (so long, 2020!), and many of us are setting goals for 2021. If you’re anything like the estimated 51% of resolution-makers who vow to improve their diets, then consider upping your intake of vitamins.
And the one to pay extra attention to is folate or folic acid, otherwise known as vitamin B9. This powerhouse nutrient plays an essential role in many functions throughout the body, including maintaining the health of our mouth, teeth, and gums.
With the first full week of January marking Folic Acid Awareness Week, we couldn’t think of a better time to shine the spotlight on this vital vitamin. Learn what exactly folic acid is, how it affects our health, and how much is recommended to keep your smile sparkling each day.
What is Folic Acid?
Folic acid is necessary for ensuring the proper production of red blood cells. By managing the ways our cells divide and carry oxygen throughout the body, the vitamin is a key component to the health of our hearts, brains, and more, including the soft tissues of our mouths.
Studies have also shown that the vitamin plays a crucial role in the formation of our DNA. A lack of folic acid has been linked to chromosome breakage which can lead to an increased risk for certain cancers and cognitive defects. Other studies have shown that folic acid is even more important for women who are pregnant. Ensuring the proper intake of B9, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, can dramatically reduce the risk of fetal brain and spine defects.
How Folic Acid Affects Oral Health
Vitamin B9 is remarkably important in supporting the cells that make up the gums, as well as the mouth’s ability to fight off inflammation and disease. Those who lack adequate amounts of folic acid can find themselves at risk for early signs of irritated gums such as bleeding, bad breath, and cavities.
If not addressed with proper diet and dental care, these symptoms can lead to advanced periodontal disease, potentially causing loss of teeth, visibly receding gums, and the need for invasive periodontal treatment.
The good news is that a diet high in folate or folic acid could help prevent gum disease from developing. What’s more, those looking to stop receding gums from getting worse can turn to folic acid to stop it in its tracks. And if a patient does end up needing periodontal treatment, folic acid could help with post-procedure healing and may even prevent symptoms from returning later.
How Much Folic Acid Do You Need Per Day?
As with most essential vitamins, it’s best to get as much of your folate as you can from a healthy and balanced diet. However, many people may still benefit from adding a folic acid supplement to their daily routine.
The National Institutes of Health offers the following recommendations by age for daily doses in micrograms (mcg):
|Age||Recommended Daily Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||65 mcg*|
|7 to 12 months||80 mcg*|
|1 to 3 years||150 mcg|
|4 to 8 years||200 mcg|
|9 to 13 years||300 mcg|
|14+ years||400 mcg|
*Equivalent to the intake of folate in healthy, breastfed infants.
Certain groups may need even higher doses to get the full effects of the folic acid. These might include:
- Women who are pregnant or lactating as the body’s demand for folate increases;
- People with malabsorptive conditions such as celiac disease or IBS;
- People with limited diets who might not be getting enough folate for whatever reason;
- People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol as alcohol interferes with folate absorption;
Keep in mind that, while folic acid certainly has its benefits, taking too much could have potentially negative side effects. This might be especially true for people who eat high volumes of folic-fortified foods or take other daily supplements. (A typical multivitamin already has the recommended dose for most adults, so an additional supplement may not be wise.)
As for your oral health, eating a diet of folate-rich foods — along with making regular trips to the dentist and staying on top of proper at-home care — is your first line of defense for keeping your mouth happy and healthy. But should your teeth and gums still need a little help, speak with your dentist to see if a folic acid supplement could be right for you.