According to Nutrition Research, a journal dedicated to life sciences, nutrition, diet and health, 42 percent of adults in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin D.

Lack of adequate vitamin D in the body can lead to several health problems, including increased risk of heart disease and cancer. The challenge for many people is knowing the dangers and finding out if they’re at risk.

Thanks to new findings, dentists may now be able to notify their patients about a lack of vitamin D by taking some tooth X-rays.

Lori D'Ortenzio and Megan Brickley, anthropologists at McMaster University, have focused their attention on the tooth pulp. After taking an X-ray, the pulp (or the shadow seen in the middle of the tooth) will take a form of a two-horned arch or a hard-backed chair. If a dentist looks at the X-ray and sees the two-horned arch, that is the good sign. The other means a vitamin D deficiency.

D'Ortenzio and Brickley's knowledge of identifying these deficiencies came from post-mortem teeth records. In this case, a tooth could be split open, and they could clearly see indicators of vitamin D deficiency.

Obviously, for someone who is still alive, dentists need a simpler process. That is what lead them to experiment with X-rays.

They've shared their research in the International Journal of Paleopathology. It turns out that there were definite consistencies in what they found in historical teeth and X-ray teeth. This finding means dentists could catch the deficiency in their practice, then patients could seek out a blood test for verification.

Brickley called these parallels a real "Eureka!" moment.

"I think it's really important," she said. "It was a piece of work that aimed to look more at past individuals, but it has the potential to contribute to modern healthcare as well."

This includes the possibilities of being able to gauge the proper balances of getting enough sunlight and being overexposed to harmful UV rays. Plus, the advantages for present-day care aren't limited to adults.

In fact, an early detection of low vitamin D could help children as well. Since their bones are still growing and developing, fixing a deficiency could prevent future vitamin D and bone problems as adults.

It remains unclear why the lack of vitamin D can cause so many health problems and concerns. However, this revelation adds a new layer in helping people do something about it sooner than later.

It's important that patients have a thorough understanding of the risks. With this new approach to identifying a vitamin D deficiency, dentists can now be part of a healthier, and potentially life-saving solution.