Popularity of vegetarianism increases every year, and its effects are already visible in the oral health of Finns. A diet rich in vegetables, berries, and fruit is healthy for the body because of its vitamin and trace element content, but it is also known to cause dental erosion due to its acidity.
There are many different versions of vegetarian diets to choose from. The “types” are divided according to the proportion of animal products that are included in the diet. A vegetarian diet consists mainly of plant products. A vegan diet, on the other hand, means that a person does not eat any animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and their derivatives.
In Finland, less than 10% of the population are vegetarians, of which a few percent are vegans. This includes lactovegetarians, who eat dairy products but avoid eggs. For pescovegetarians, the only animal products a person consumes are fish, eggs, and dairy products.
– Both vegan and vegetarian diets have an impact on oral health. For people who have changed their diet, these changes often come as a surprise, says dentist Pirta Liljekvist.
According to Liljekvist, dental erosion is a rapidly growing problem in Western countries, especially among young people. Studies show that around one in five Finns have obvious erosion damage to their teeth. Severe erosive wear is found in around 5-10% of the population.
Liljekvist says that dental erosion is even a relatively underdiagnosed oral problem today, with many people blaming it on other forms of tooth wear, such as teeth grinding.
Dental erosion can be caused by any acidic substance coming into direct contact with tooth enamel or dental bone. The amount and properties of saliva in one’s mouth also contribute to the development of dental erosion. In a dry mouth, acidic substances stay on the surfaces of teeth for longer periods of time, making them more susceptible to damage.
Dental erosion can be caused by nutrients with a pH below 5.5. If an acidic food contains calcium, such as milk or yogurt, erosion does not occur because calcium acts as a buffer against acid attacks in the mouth. Everyone should also remember to rinse their mouth with water after eating acidic foods or drinks!
Research shows that a vegan diet completely free of animal protein can not only predispose you to tooth erosion, but also tooth demineralization.
In demineralization, bacterial metabolism in the mouth produces acids from sugars and other carbohydrates, which dissolve minerals in the enamel. The risk of tooth decay is increased in particular by inadequate self-care, snacking throughout the day, and high sugar intake.
So-called white spot enamel lesions are usually caused by a decrease in the mineral content of the tooth’s surface layer i.e., the enamel. They can also form on the tooth surface as a result of long-term orthodontic treatment.
There are many reasons why a vegan diet may predispose to demineralization and white spot enamel damage. One likely cause is the high intake of starchy and sugar-based carbohydrates in a vegan diet. Vegans may also eat more times a day than recommended by dentists to reach their recommended daily calorie intake.
Research suggests that an appropriate number of meals per day is 5-6 times daily. This gives saliva in the mouth time to neutralize the acidity in the mouth while allowing minerals to reharden on the teeth surfaces. Constant snacking leads to an increase in the number of acid attacks during the day, causing both tooth decay and damage to tooth enamel.
Diet has a big impact on oral health. Studies have found more acid erosion in vegetarians than in omnivores. The same is likely to be true for vegans, who are also more likely than mixed eaters to eat more fruit, vegetables, and greens, which in turn lowers the pH of saliva and leads to dental erosion.
Vegans should be aware of the hidden sugars in their diets, which are often marketed as foods containing ‘natural’ sugars. They should also do their best to monitor and limit their dietary intake of acid containing foods and drinks, which increase their risk of caries and dental erosion.
According to Liljekvist, cases of dental erosion have increased over the past 15 years, but not only due to the rise in popularity of vegetarianism. Eating habits of people, in general, have also become more challenging for maintaining oral health. In addition, to the increase in between-meal snacking, consumption of energy and fizzy drinks, for example, has also grown significantly.
Drinking large quantities of soft drinks such as smoothies, fruit juices, and water flavored with lemon, can also impact oral health.
The impact of gum diseases, such as periodontal disease, on the oral health of vegans has not yet been thoroughly investigated, but studies have found a link between low vitamin B12 levels and increased loss of adhesive dental tissue in patients.
If gingivitis is not addressed in time, gum pockets deepen and the bacteria that causes periodontal disease – so-called periodontal pathogens –penetrate deep into gum pockets, aggravating the mouth and causing further problems. In worst-case scenarios, untreated gum diseases can even lead to tooth loss.
A varied vegetarian diet provides a good supply of important nutrients, but supplements such as vitamin D may be needed for maintaining oral health.
If the diet is low in foods of animal origin, vitamin B12, iron, and calcium should also be supplemented, if necessary. Deficiency in these vitamins can lead to oral diseases such as aggravation of recurrent aphthae ulcers and the development of white spots.
It is also worth paying attention to toothpaste. The use of fluoride toothpaste is recommended for everyone to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Fluoride is vegan-friendly, and vegan toothpaste containing fluoride is also available. However, it is worth ensuring that your toothpaste contains fluoride, as many vegan toothpastes do not.
Oral health is part of a person’s overall health, and studies show that a vegetarian diet can also have many benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer, obesity, and heart disease.
A healthy lifestyle combined with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist or oral hygienist can help maintain excellent oral health. Many dental professionals now also recommend including Lumoral treatment in your daily oral homecare routine for improved results.
Regular use of Lumoral reduces the harmful bacterial load in the mouth and decreases the risk of tooth decay and gingivitis (1). If you have already been diagnosed with periodontal disease by your dentist, regular visits to an oral health care professional are recommended. Thorough oral home care is essential at every stage of your gum disease treatment. The only way to avoid the challenges of gum disease is to take good care of your oral hygiene by keeping teeth and interdental spaces free of dental plaque. This can be promoted by careful self-care and further enhanced by regular Lumoral treatment.
Lumoral is CE marked Class IIa medical device that improves home care when used in addition to mechanical cleaning. The device that is developed by Finnish scientists removes microscopic plaque, slows down the formation of new plaque and thus slows down the formation of tartar. It also has proven to effectively prevents gingivitis, periodontitis and tooth decay (1).
See Published Article in The Dentist Magazine
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