With almost 3 million vegetarians in the UK, and more and more of us going veggie, it looks like we’re beginning to make healthier choices when it comes to diet.
But there’s some debate about how good a vegetarian diet is for your teeth. We thought we’d break it down into the pros and cons…
Pros of a vegetarian diet for your teeth
- Calcium is essential for strong teeth and bones and the great news is it’s abundant in plant-based foods! These include fortified tofu, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds, plus leafy green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and on-trend curly kale.
- Certain fibrous vegetarian foods can even help ‘clean’ the teeth of plaque, including fresh whole fruits (think apples) and vegetables (raw carrots and celery). They can also stimulate saliva production to help neutralise any acids.
- Eating plant-based foods is also thought to help support the tissues surrounding the teeth and prevent gum inflammation.
- A diet rich in plant-based foods can be more alkaline in pH, which means less acidic, so can therefore help reduce enamel erosion.
- Some studies suggest a vegetarian or vegan diet could help protect you from mouth cancer – but this relies on making other healthy lifestyle choices too, such as not smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
- While not necessarily a dietary necessity, L-arginine is an amino acid thought to help prevent the formation of plaque on the teeth. It is largely found in meat and poultry, but is also found in dairy, soy beans, nuts and beansprouts. In fact, it is even being added to toothpastes to treat tooth sensitivity.
Cons of a vegetarian diet for your teeth
- Calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiency can be a problem for vegetarians, and particularly vegans who cut out animal products entirely. These vitamins are essential for strong tooth and bone development and being deficient can lead to an increased risk of periodontal disease. It can also cause softened enamel over time, making teeth susceptible to erosion and decay.
- B12 is essential for wound healing and cell renewal, which is difficult to obtain naturally without a diet based in animal products. However, there are supplements available and many foods are fortified with vitamins B12 and B2.
- In order to boost vitamin intake, vegetarians and vegans are often more likely to eat more fruits. While whole fruit is good for you, it does contain sugar and acids (particularly citrus fruits), which can lead to an increased risk of dental erosion. Opt for those with a high water content.
Should you go veggie?
The key to looking after your health and diet always comes down to moderation. So long as you take steps to ensure you’re consuming these essential nutrients through a balanced diet, then there’s no reason you can’t enjoy being vegetarian or vegan while also looking after your mouth!
To help, keep these 6 tips in mind
- Eat a varied diet rich in nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and veg, tofu, legumes and dairy (where possible). Vitamins A, D and K are needed to help absorb calcium so look out for these.
- Stick to whole foods and fruits rather than processed (or smoothies) which may be high in sugars. And remember, salad dressings can be sugary and acidic too!
- Try to eat acidic and sugary foods and drinks (whether natural sugar or added) just once in the day and rinse with water afterward.
- Brush up on your dental hygiene by ensuring you’re brushing for the minimum two minutes and flossing or using an interdental brush at least once during the day.
- Take supplements or consume fortified foods to top up your vitamin intake, but always check to ensure they’re vegetarian friendly!
- Get out more! Simply walking to work or taking a 20-minute stroll on your lunch can help ensure you’re getting enough sunlight exposure to boost your vitamin D levels.
Our Notting Hill dental hygienists can answer all your questions about how your diet affects your teeth. If you’d like more tips and advice on how to keep your teeth strong as a vegetarian, book your appointment today at Number 18 Dental.