Vegetarian - a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, chicken. Vegan- no food derived from animals, such as eggs or cheese, but instead eats vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.
Many people in society today have chosen to go Vegetarian for many reasons. One of the main reasons people choose this lifestyle is to live healthier. Most well balanced vegetarians have excellent oral health, but while a vegetarian diet has great health benefits it can adversely affect your oral health if not watched carefully. The vegetarian diet eliminates certain food groups which can cause the loss of certain nutrients essential for oral health.
Some Vegetarians experience deficiencies in calcium, fiber, and Vitamin D putting them at increased risk for periodontal disease. If you choose to forgo animal based food it is imperative that you find food alternatives and supplement options that can help you maintain not only your dental health but also your overall health.
Cause For Dental Concern Among Vegetarians
Many who enter into the vegetarian lifestyle go into it full of knowledge regarding dietary options by consuming vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes to get the vitamins and nutrients they need on a daily basis. Studies have shown though that an adult eating a vegetarian diet for an extended period of time can be at an increased risk for a lack of vitamin D and calcium. Generally, we get lax over time and may not be as good at maintaining a well balanced diet to include everything we need.
A deficiency of vitamin D and calcium can cause teeth to weaken over time, which makes them more susceptible to tooth decay and periodontal disease. However, vitamin D is produced naturally in the body with normal sun exposure, so deficiencies are quite rare. Deficiencies in calcium are much more common but can be easily remedied with the proper diet and supplements. Studies have shown that people who consume less than the recommended daily amount of calcium are almost twice as likely to have periodontal disease.
Dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt) are the best sources of calcium. Certain products are also fortified with calcium like soy milk, breakfast cereals, and orange juice. However, for vegans, there are several other types of non-dairy sources of calcium that you can choose to ensure your daily calcium intake. Bean products, such as tofu, as well as sesame seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and green leafy vegetables particularly okra and curly kale are excellent choices and today, certain products like soy milk , bottled water, breakfast cereals and orange juice are also fortified with extra calcium.
The potential for nutritional deficiencies is greatest among children and teenagers who decide to become vegetarians. This is because they generally do not know enough about their nutritional needs. Also, some vegetarians are at risk for nutritional deficiencies in vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 as well as calcium and vitamin D.
Dental Health Advantages of Vegetarian Choices
Fresh fruits and vegetable can provide increased saliva production which in turn neutralizes acids. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not contain carbohydrates that can be readily fermented by bacteria, the fiber content actually helps clean the teeth, therefore protecting against dental caries. The best choices to supplement fiber are low acid beans and legumes or whole grain products.
Supplement Options For Vegetarians
There are countless supplement options on the market today to achieve proper nutritional intake of vitamins and minerals. Some of these supplements also offer some dental benefit.
-Coenzyme Q10. Studies have shown it promotes gum healing and cell growth.
-Lysine. Known to have some effectiveness in combating canker sores.
-Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids. Promotes healing, especially of gingival tissue that is inflamed and bleeding from periodontal disease.
-Calcium and Magnesium. Believed to help prevent bone loss around the teeth.
-Vitamins A and E. Are needed for healing gingival tissue.
-Grape Seed Extract. Is known as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
-Zinc plus Copper. Enhances immune function.
-Aloe Vera Gel. Relieves inflamed gums and soothes the tissues when applied directly to the inflamed area of tissue.
-Chamomile Tea. Soothing to gingival tissues.
-Green Tea. Is helpful in decay prevention and decreases plaque.
-Echinacea. Keeps inflammation down and enhances immune function.
Remember that anyone considering adopting a vegetarian lifestyle should seek out information from books, their physician, or a nutritionist to learn about substitutes to ensure maintenance of a well balanced diet. This should not just be jumped into without proper knowledge and preparation. Patients should also inform their physicians or dentist as part of their medical history if they are vegetarian.
A healthy well balanced diet and maintaining a good dental hygiene regimen are the best defense against problems with your gums and teeth. Eating a balanced variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes will help vegetarians (and anyone for that matter) achieve a healthy, well balanced diet and a healthy smile. As always see your dentist regularly for dental examinations and professional cleanings.