Vegetarian diets and oral health

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: May 28th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You are what you eat, and your dentist can determine whether you’ve been eating too much cavity-causing sugar. But did you know other health problems caused by nutritional deficiencies can also be revealed during a dental exam?

For instance, most would expect vegetarians, with their low-cholesterol diet, to be the picture of health. Yet the Academy of General Dentistry reports vegetarian and other limited diets may result in serious nutritional deficiencies that can lead to periodontal [pear-ee-oh-DOHN-tal], or gum, disease. Vegetarians who do not eat any food of animal origin may experience deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12 or complete proteins.

Fortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are not very common since the vitamin is produced in the body naturally with sun exposure. But people who do not consume milk or fish may still be in danger of vitamin D deficiency, causing tooth enamel and supporting bone to soften and opening the door to decay and disease.

Parents, especially, should be careful about the nutritional needs of vegetarian children and teens. Consuming green, leafy vegetables, or cod liver oil and nutritional yeast may help reduce vitamin D deficiencies. In general, eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, combined with a daily multiple vitamin supplement, can help vegetarians get the nutrients their bodies need.

If you are already a vegetarian or are considering becoming one, ask your dentist or a nutritionist what you should include on the menu to assure a balanced diet and… Bon appétit!