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Vitamin Deficiencies and Your Mouth

If you visit your dentist because your mouth is burning or your gums bleed easily, you may get a prescription — not for pills, but for broccoli and strawberries.

Eating a healthy diet is just as important for your mouth as it is for the rest of your body. Certain vitamin deficiencies can have serious effects on your mouth and teeth. If your mouth is sore or your gums are bleeding, you might not be able to eat well. This can make any vitamin deficiencies worse.

Seniors are more likely to have vitamin deficiencies because they may have problems absorbing nutrients from food. Younger people can also have conditions that cause difficulties absorbing nutrients. Your physician can help to determine whether you have a vitamin deficiency and how it should be treated. Your dentist can identify oral problems and help to determine whether a vitamin deficiency is the cause.

Here are some vitamin deficiencies that might affect your mouth and teeth.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B deficiencies are one of the most common deficiencies that can affect mouth and teeth.

A common oral effect of vitamin B deficiency is a burning sensation in the mouth, especially on the tongue. People with this deficiency can also have trouble swallowing. The tongue may feel swollen. The tissue of the inner cheeks can be pale and may break apart easily and slough off.

B-vitamin deficiencies also can lead to anemia (too few red blood cells). Severe B12 deficiency can cause neurological problems such as numb or tingling limbs.

A deficiency in another B vitamin, folic acid, also can make your mouth feel like it's burning. As with B12, a severe deficiency in folic acid can lead to numb or tingling limbs. Folic acid is crucial to fetal development as well. Not having enough of this vitamin during early pregnancy can increase the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects. These are defects of the brain, spinal cord or both.

Vitamin B deficiency also may increase your risk of:

  • Angular cheilitis —
  • A painful inflammation and cracking in the corners of the mouth. It usually is related to a fungal infection.
  • Recurrent aphthous stomatitis —
  • Also known as recurring canker sores. Anemia, which can occur because of vitamin B deficiency, can increase your risk of these sores.
  • Chronic oral mucosal candidiasis —
  • A fungal infection in the mouth. The Candida albicans fungus is found naturally in the mouth. It does not normally cause problems. However, poor nutrition or poor absorption of vitamins makes you more susceptible.
  • Atrophic glossitis —
  • A condition that causes the taste buds to break down, making the tongue look "bald." This condition affects the sense of taste. It can occur with a severe vitamin deficiency. Here are common sources of B vitamins:
  • Thiamin (B1) —
  • Pork, whole and enriched grains, legumes, nuts, dried beans
  • Riboflavin (B2) —
  • Milk and milk products, eggs, liver, almonds, shellfish
  • Niacin (B3) —
  • Protein-rich foods, meat, liver, poultry, fish, whole grains, peanuts
  • Pyroxidine (Vitamin B6) —
  • Meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables, bananas, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits
  • Cobalamin (B12) —
  • Fish, meat, poultry, milk and milk products, eggs, fortified cereals
  • Folic acid (also called folate) —
  • Leafy green vegetables, orange juice, legumes, broccoli, asparagus, fortified cereals, nuts


The effects of iron deficiency are similar to those of vitamin B deficiency:

  • Burning sensation in the mouth and tongue
  • Fungal infections in the mouth
  • Tongue redness and swelling
  • Sores and pale tissue in the mouth

Iron deficiency can be caused by a poor diet or by intestinal problems that reduce iron absorption. It also can result from regular blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual periods or internal bleeding. Iron deficiency can cause anemia.

Good sources of iron include:

  • Lean meat
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Beans
  • Shellfish
  • Whole-grain bread

People with significant iron deficiency may have to take iron supplements.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is also called ascorbic acid. This vitamin is needed to make collagen, the main building block for many tissues. A deficiency can lead to gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, also can cause gums to bleed easily. Vitamin C deficiency may also cause fatigue and easy bruising.

Good sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers
  • Cantaloupe

Smoking depletes vitamin C in the body, so smokers need extra amounts of this vitamin.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps skin cells grow and maintain themselves. A lack of vitamin A can lead to delayed healing in the mouth.

Good sources of vitamin A include:

  • Fortified milk
  • Liver (chicken, beef)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (such as apricots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrots)

Vitamin A can be stored in body fat, so high-dose supplements are not recommended. They can cause side effects such as joint pain, headache, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting and liver damage.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D works with calcium to maintain bone quality and strength. Deficiencies of this vitamin can lead to brittle bones. In the mouth, vitamin D deficiency can increase the risks of jaw fracture and periodontal disease. A deficiency early in life could affect the formation of teeth.

Sometimes people with kidney disease also have vitamin D deficiency.

The body will make its own vitamin D if it is exposed to sunlight for several minutes two or three times a week. The vitamin is also found in:

  • Fish liver oils and fish
  • Fortified milk and milk products
  • Egg yolk
  • Some cereals

Vitamin K

Vitamin K deficiency can affect the mouth. The best way to get your daily requirement is by eating certain foods, including:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Eggs
  • Beef

Vitamin K is also made by bacteria in your intestines.

A vitamin K deficiency may be caused by liver disease, long-term antibiotic use or other disease(s). Poor diet is seldom the cause.

Vitamin K helps to make proteins that allow the blood to clot. A deficiency of vitamin K may cause easy bruising and slow healing. People with vitamin K deficiency may have excessive bleeding after a tooth is extracted, or even after a tooth cleaning.

Last updated February 11, 2016