How Does A Vegan Or Vegetarian Diet Affect Your Oral Health?

Cutting meat and animal products out of your diet can do a lot for your health if you're consuming far too much saturated fat and cholesterol. However, these otherwise healthy diets can produce both positive and negative effects in the mouth, depending on exactly what you choose to eat when you're avoiding animal-based foods. Find out what happens to your oral health when you become vegan or vegetarian and how to avoid the negatives while maximizing the positives.

Healthier Gums

The main benefit that vegetarians and vegans both enjoy from their limited diets is higher overall gum health. People on these diets tend to experience less gum disease, fewer pockets around the roots, and less inflammation in the mouth in general. In one study, this link between eating vegetable-focused diets and healthier gums was shown despite other secondary risk factors like smoking and age. There was also a trend of higher dental knowledge and education in the vegans and vegetarians in the study, which means they understood the importance of regular brushing and flossing.

More Cavities

Unfortunately, the increased gum health of the vegans and vegetarians is balanced out by a lower overall tooth health. The gums may hold the roots in more securely thanks to reduced pockets and inflammation, but the teeth themselves are more likely to develop cavities and serious decay. Nutritional imbalances further weaken the strength of the teeth, resulting in faster development and spread of decay as well when the enamel is breached by the bacteria. This effect is often compounded by the fact that many vegans choose to avoid fluoride, further weakening their enamel and increasing their chances for getting cavities. Since fluoride is usually derived from beef tallow or other animal products, it violates the tenets of the diet.

Increased Wear

Most vegans and vegetarians experience the same amount of wear and tear on their teeth as anyone else, but a small subset of these groups focus on primarily or exclusively eating raw foods. These uncooked vegetables and fruits are often very fibrous and hard, resulting in increased mechanical wear and tear on the teeth. It does take years for the effects to accumulate, but eventually the teeth lose their enamel layer on the surfaces that are most worn down. This increases your chances for developing decay in your molars where it quickly spreads to the roots and requires a root canal rather than just drilling and filling.

Extra Acids

Of course, the exact diet of each vegan or vegetarian varies greatly because the diets are based on exclusions rather than exhaustive lists of what to eat. Some people who avoid meats and animal products choose foods that are highly acidic to replace them, and even natural fruit and plant acids are still very damaging to the teeth due to enamel erosion. Acidic foods that are popular among people on vegetable-based diets include:

  • Vinegar-based dressings for salads and grain bowls
  • Most fruits, including berries, apples, and stone fruits
  • Olives and other pickled vegetables
  • Lentils, rice, and many other grains
  • Nuts like pecans, cashews, and walnuts
  • Lemons and other citrus fruits
  • Juices, natural sodas, and coffee.

Fewer Vitamins

Finally, some of the most crucial vitamins for strong teeth and healthy gums are harder to get when you're not eating animal products or meat. Vegans and vegetarians should take supplements or carefully monitor their food intake to verify they're receiving enough Vitamin D, calcium, and Vitamin B12. All three are essential for oral health and are primarily supplied by dairy products and other animal produced foods. There are plenty of vegan-friendly dietary supplements to quickly boost vitamin intake to prevent dental side effects as you reassess your diet plan.