Are you or your kids getting enough calcium in your diet? Calcium is important for building healthy teeth, jaws and bones, and for maintaining their health and function throughout your life. It also helps systems such as the nerves, muscles and heart to function.
If you're not taking in enough calcium in food and drink, your body will instead take it from your bones and teeth. This can cause them to deteriorate over time, making teeth more vulnerable to damage from tooth decay and injuries, or leading to conditions such as osteoporosis.
Many foods and drinks are natural sources of calcium, but studies show that most Australians aren't getting enough.
How much calcium do I need?
It's a common misconception that calcium intake is only important for kids' teeth. While calcium is very important for the healthy development of teeth and bones throughout childhood and adolescence, adults also need calcium to help maintain their teeth, bones and overall health.
As you get older, calcium can also help to prevent or slow down bone loss, which could help you to keep your natural teeth for longer.
According to Australian Dietary Guidelines, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium per day is:
Children and teens
|Women aged over 19-50
|Women aged over 50
|Men aged 19-70
|Men over 70
What are the best sources of calcium?
If you want to make sure you and your family are getting all the calcium you need, here are some of the best dietary sources – and things you should avoid.
Consuming several dairy products every day is one of the easiest ways to make sure you're getting enough calcium in your diet. Not all servings are equally calcium-rich, but some of the best sources include:
- Yoghurt: 386mg per 200g pot
- Milk: 367mg per 250ml cup
- Cheese: 209mg per slice
If you're lactose intolerant, or don't consume animal products, you can still get calcium from soy-based alternatives, but you should check that these are fortified with calcium.
Leafy green vegetables provide many valuable vitamins and minerals in a balanced diet, including calcium. Those highest in calcium include:
- Spinach: 245mg per cup
- Kale: 172mg per cup
- Mustard greens: 165mg per cup
- Pak choy: 158mg per cup
- Okra: 123mg per cup
The amount of calcium per serving is lower in vegetables than in some other sources, so if you don't consume meat, fish or dairy products, you should check that you're eating the best veggies for your teeth.
Whether fresh or tinned, fish is one of the best dietary sources of calcium, especially when the bones are included.
For example, a 90g serving of tinned sardines contains around 486mg of calcium.
You don't have to be vegetarian to enjoy the health benefits of tofu. Swapping out meat for tofu or tempeh in some meals will provide a good source of calcium and could mean you're consuming less saturated fat.
Firm tofu contains 832mg of calcium per cup.
Nuts and seeds
High in calcium, and helping to scrape off plaque, nuts are healthy snack for teeth, as long a you take care when biting down. Some of the best nuts for teeth are:
- Almonds: 378mg per cup
- Brazil nuts: 212mg per cup
Sprinkling sesame seeds over dishes is another versatile way to add calcium to your meals.
Not just the milk, but many breakfast cereals have added calcium to help kids develop strong teeth and bones.
You can also look for breads and fruit juices fortified with calcium to make sure you and your family are getting the best start to your day.
Dentists normally recommend getting your daily calcium from a balanced diet, but if you're struggling to get what you need from food and drink alone, or you're managing a condition such as osteoporosis, they may recommend taking a supplement.
You should always talk to your dentist or doctor for advice before you start to take any supplements.
Vitamin D and phosphorus
Calcium can't do the job alone. As well as a healthy calcium intake, it's also important to make sure you're getting enough vitamin D and phosphorus.
Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed by the teeth, bones and blood. It also has other benefits for oral health, as it helps to reduce swelling in the gums that can lead to gum disease.
Like calcium, vitamin D is found in many dairy products and oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines. It's also found in eggs and cereals and can be absorbed from sunlight through the skin.
Phosphorus is also necessary to help calcium strengthen the teeth and bones, especially during childhood.
Good sources of phosphorus are meat (including fish and poultry), eggs, cereals, wheat germ, nuts (especially almonds) and certain fruits (such as grapes, citrus fruit and tomatoes).
What to avoid
When you're choosing teeth-friendly food and drinks to boost your calcium intake, take care to avoid dairy products that contain too much sugar. This feeds bacteria in the mouth that can build up on the teeth in the form of plaque, leading to tooth decay, cavities and other oral health problems.
You should also try to cut down on caffeine, alcohol and soft drinks, as these can affect the body's ability to absorb calcium efficiently. These drinks are also common causes of teeth stains.
Need to see a dentist in Brisbane?
If you need some advice about caring for your teeth, or it's time for your regular check-up and clean, get in touch with our team at Face Value Dental today.
Better Health Channel. 10 tips on how to eat more calcium [Online] 2012 [Accessed December 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ten-tips/10-tips-on-how-to-eat-more-calcium
Healthdirect. Calcium [Online] 2017 [Accessed December 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/calcium
Dental Health Services Victoria. Calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus [Online] 2010 [Accessed December 2019] Available from: https://www.dhsv.org.au/dental-advice/teeth-tips-and-facts/calcium-vitamin-d-and-phosphorus