A specialized vegetarian diet is a healthy way of life for a lot of people; getting the proper nutrition from proteins and foods is quite necessary on all levels. However, the concept of proper oral health is sometimes overlooked. Those who follow a strict vegetarian diet must consider dental health when choosing meals and snacks.
How will being a vegetarian affect one’s teeth? As general dentists and those who work in cosmetic dentistry, we must promote good oral health to our vegetarian patients because the lack of proper nutrition can trigger tooth decay and periodontal disease. People who choose not to eat meat and animal products need to make up for the loss of calcium and proteins.
Dentists — it is our job to educate patients as best as we can on the most nutritious “vegetarian foods” that will help keep teeth strong and disease-free. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Survey patients on whether or not they are vegetarians — for those who are, provide specially-targeted brochures that list types of high-calcium foods, such as dairy products, leafy greens (spinach, broccoli, etc), fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. A separate but similar brochure can be created for “meat eaters” because — healthy teeth are happy teeth!
- Suggest vitamin supplements that increase calcium for teeth and bones. If one’s vegetarian diet is lacking in vitamins D, B2 or B12, riboflavin, calcium or protein, supplements are helpful in bringing that balance into place.
- Advise all patients on the best ways to enhance oral health — beyond the basic tasks of brushing and flossing. Parents who feed their children a vegetarian diet must especially understand that deficiencies in nutrition can lead to serious growth problems; including the lack of strong, healthy teeth and gums. Well-balanced vegetarian diets must include foods containing high sources of calcium, iron and essential vitamins.
- Recommend that your patients keep a daily diary of the foods they eat and compare those foods to nutrition charts.
Encouraging patients to have routine check-ups is standard, but to promote good oral health for vegetarians, we dentists can go further than that. Ask your vegetarian patients if they want to engage in interactive learning; it can be done through social media or your own website.
Let them know that we really do care about how well they eat because … in the long run … health, self-esteem and strong teeth go hand-in-hand (mouth-in-mouth?) We dentists are the experts in oral health; society needs our input!