Large geographical variations in dental health and tooth loss among US adolescents and young adults have been reported since the mid-1800s. Studies in the 1920s and 1930s noted that vitamin D and ultraviolet-B (UVB) irradiance reduced caries formation, the proposed mechanism being improved calcium absorption and metabolism. This paper reviews the history of studies of dental caries with respect to vitamin D, geographical location and available solar UVB doses. In addition, data on mean dental health rank by state for US servicemen from three periods, 1918, 1934 and 1943, were used in regression analyses with respect to summertime solar UVB doses and an index for mottled enamel, a proxy for natural fluoridation of drinking water, for 1935. There was a significant inverse correlation for dental health rank with respect to solar UVB from doses of 4.0 to 6.5 kJ/m(2) with little change thereafter. Adding data for mottled enamel rates for the states with UvB doses <6.6 kJ/m(2) improved the adjusted R(2) from 0.45 to 0.52. The mechanism whereby UVB reduces risk of dental caries is likely through production of vitamin D, followed by induction of cathelicidin and defensins, which have antimicrobial properties. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations at or above 30-40 ng/ml should significantly reduce the formation of dental caries. It is unfortunate that the UVB and vitamin D findings were not given more consideration in the 1950s as a way to reduce the risk of dental caries when water fluoridation was being proposed.
Keywords: dental caries; fluoridation; fluorosis; periodontal disease; ultraviolet-B; vitamin D.