Following a vegetarian diet? You won’t be sinking your teeth into a juicy steak — but you may need to pay close attention to your dental health.
Many people choose vegetarian diets for health benefits. In fact, the American Dietetic Association says almost anyone can safely go without meat if they so choose. This includes children and teens. Doing so may help prevent cancer, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
However, vegetarians who skip meat and vegans who avoid all animal products may have a higher risk for periodontal (gum) disease and other oral health problems. Why? They may be low on certain key nutrients. A clinical dietitian can also help you plan your diet.
If you’re going veggie, talk with your doctor or dentist. He or she will help you get the following vitamins and minerals:
Calcium, which makes bones and teeth strong. The best sources are dairy products, broccoli, and dark leafy greens. So-called fortified foods have calcium added. Look for it in juices, cereal, and tofu.
Vitamin D, which your body needs to use calcium. Low vitamin D can also cause your teeth to soften. Your body makes this nutrient when you spend time in the sun. Cereal, milk, and other foods also have vitamin D added.
You may need supplements if you can’t get enough of these nutrients in your regular diet.
Even vegan eating plans can be safe for children. But careful planning and monitoring is needed for kids and teens who may not know how to plan balanced meatless diets. Plus they’re still growing, so their risk for dental problems is higher.
It’s even more important to consult a pro about youngsters’ vitamin and mineral needs. Ask a doctor or dietitian for help. And be sure to tell your child’s dentist about any type of special diet. The dentist, hygienist, or dental assistant will be on the lookout for signs of missing nutrients.
“Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, January 2009. www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Nutrition/default.asp. Accessed 2013.
“Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium.” National Institutes of Health, November 12, 2009. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-QuickFacts/. Accessed 2013.
“Is a Vegetarian Diet OK for Kids?” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/kids/tip.aspx?id=6442459324&terms=vegetarian+diet.Accessed 2013.
“Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. July 2009, vol. 109, no. 7, pp. 1266-82. Abstract: http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/19562864/reload=0;jsessionid=VWNZgwqfipEdSxMrh7ee.6. Accessed 2013.