The oral health of a meat-eater is not a (vegetable) patch on a vegetarian’s, according to the results of a new study.

German researchers1 discovered that veggies have healthier gums than meat-eaters and are therefore less likely to suffer from bleeding gums, tooth loss and potential life-threatening conditions.

However, it was not all good news for vegetarians. The study also revealed they suffered from more tooth decay and were less likely to visit their dentist, despite knowing the benefits of doing so.

A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fresh fruit and vegetables has been proven to help prevent gum disease, the leading cause of tooth loss. The two most common deficiencies among long-term vegetarians are vitamin D and calcium, which can cause teeth to soften, making them more vulnerable to tooth decay.

Gum disease in particular has been associated with serious health issues. Only recently it has been associated with potential heart and respiratory problems, men’s sexual health issues and pregnancy complications. As gum disease affects most people at some point in their lives, there is no excuse for ignoring good dental hygiene.

According to Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, the good news is that poor oral health is nearly always preventable, so it is important that people make caring for their teeth a top priority.

Dr Carter said: “We know a vegetarian’s diet can benefit their oral health. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain anti-oxidants, which have been proven to help prevent gum disease and reduce the risk of mouth cancer. However, they may be at higher risk of certain vitamin deficiencies that could affect oral health.

For this reason, it is important to mention if you have vegetarian or vegan lifestyle at your next check-up. Your dentist can give you tips to make sure you get all the nutrients necessary for a healthy mouth. A daily supplement with all the necessary vitamins and minerals is also a good idea, especially for younger vegetarians as they continue to grow and develop.

Steak and chips by FotoosVanRobin via Wikimedia Commons

Steak and chips by FotoosVanRobin via Wikimedia Commons

Regular visits to the dentist, as often as they recommend, are really important to give the dentist a chance to assess your oral health and, if necessary, give your teeth a scale and polish. To make the most of this treatment, I'd also encourage a simple routine of brushing teeth, twice a day for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste, which will help to remove plaque – the cause of gum disease.”

Researchers at the Department of Conservative Dentistry, Periodontology and Preventive Dentistry at the Hannover Medical School examined 100 vegetarians and 100 non-vegetarians. Results showed vegetarians had significantly lower probing pocket depths, bleeding on probing, periodontal screening index, a better hygiene index and less mobile teeth. Dental examinations revealed significantly less missing teeth but also more decayed and eroded teeth in vegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians had a higher level of education but visited dentists significantly less frequently.

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