Whether you're vegetarian because of ethical concerns, religious practice or health reasons, it's worth considering your dental health. A vegetarian diet can potentially improve overall wellness, but it's important to balance your meals carefully. By eliminating certain food groups, you can potentially miss out on key nutrients for teeth and gums.
A vegetarian is someone who abstains from eating meat. Definitions vary when it comes to who counts as a vegetarian, but there are typically three main groups:
At least five in every 100 Americans are vegetarian, and three in 100 are vegan, according to a Gallup poll in 2018.
Is a vegetarian good for teeth or bad for teeth? It really depends on what you eat.
Not all vegetarian diets are alike. Compare a lentil salad, with fresh cucumbers and bell peppers, to a meal of French fries and meatless nuggets. Both are vegetarian, but the salad contains key vitamins and fiber, while the fast food option is high in cholesterol and cavity-causing starch. Similarly, a non-vegetarian diet isn't necessarily balanced, depending on what foods it includes.
Features of a healthy vegetarian diet can include the following:
When not planned with health in mind, a vegetarian diet can also come with some specific risks.
To avoid deficiencies in your diet, make sure to incorporate these key nutrients.
What it does: The most abundant mineral in the human body, calcium is essential for healthy teeth. Found abundantly in dairy products, salmon and sardines, it keeps your enamel strong and extends the life of your teeth.
Why vegetarians are at risk: By not eating seafood or dairy products, vegans are at particular risk for calcium deficiency.
How to find it: Plant-based sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, such as collard greens, kale and spinach, as well as soybeans, tofu and almonds.
What it does: Protein strengthens your jawbone and helps your salivary glands function properly. When you're deficient, you may be at higher risk for tooth decay and bone loss. Adult women should eat about 5 ounces of protein a day, while adult men should eat between 5.5 and 6 ounces, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Why vegetarians are at risk: Since meat is a top source of protein, vegetarians typically consume less protein than non-vegetarians. However, this essential nutrient can be easily found in a plant-based diet.
How to find it: Seek out protein-rich plants and grains, such as beans, soy, nuts, seeds, quinoa and buckwheat.
What it does: This vitamin is a key building block of cells. Without it, you're at risk for mouth sores and gum disease.
Why vegetarians are at risk: Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products and byproducts, including meats, dairy and eggs.
How to find it: Lacto-ovo vegetarians can boost their intake with eggs, milk and cheese, while vegans may need to eat nutritional yeast, dried seaweed or shiitake mushrooms to ensure sufficient vitamin B12.
What it does: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and is essential to your immune system. A vitamin D deficiency can put you at risk for gum disease, bone loss and tooth decay.
Why vegetarians are at risk: Fatty fish, liver and egg yolks are rich sources of vitamin D, so vegetarians and vegans may be more likely to be deficient.
How to find it: You can produce vitamin D naturally by spending time outdoors with direct exposure to sunlight, especially during summer months or the middle of the day. Dietary sources include mushrooms and eggs, as well as fortified milks, juices and cereals. You can also take daily vitamin supplements.
To enjoy the advantages of a vegetarian diet, make smart choices for your teeth and body.
By eating right and following these steps, you can maintain a vegetarian diet and keep your teeth healthy.
Whether pescatarian or vegan, omnivore or vegetarian, a balanced diet is essential to your dental and overall health
A healthy diet and good oral health care habits are the best defense against problems with gums and teeth. Eating a balanced variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes will help vegetarians — and anyone — achieve a healthy, well-rounded diet and a healthy smile.
Last updated December 20, 2022
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.