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  Posted by: The Probe      2nd August 2018

We talk about diet a lot in dentistry right now. Indeed, this has been the subject of many national news headlines in light of the recent sugar tax and the disastrous statistics surrounding children’s oral health standards. While encouraging every one of our patients to eat a healthy, balanced diet, thought should also be given to those who choose to adhere to alternative lifestyles.

It has been estimated that there are around 4 million vegetarians in the UK, as well as up to 3.5 million vegans. With most of the former population choosing to remove meat from their diet, they have been found to generally consume fewer calories in the same number of food items as non-vegetarians.[i]Other health advantages associated with vegetarianism include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, while vegans are believed to also benefit from lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.[ii] 

The impact of these diets on dental health has been somewhat debated over the years, as various studies and papers have produced contrasting results. On the whole, the lifestyle choice seems to offer mostly beneficial characteristics for vegetarians – although more reliable evidence is needed in the field. For example, a German study[iii]in 2013 found vegetarians to exhibit healthier periodontium than their meat-eating counterparts, with less inflammation, less periodontal damage and improved home care routines. A study also supported the association between a vegetarian diet and lower incidence of dental caries,[iv]although other research has published conflicting results.[v]

For vegans and those who choose to avoid dairy-based products, there may be further risks to dental health to be aware of. One paper found a greater incidence of demineralisation and white spots among vegan people compared to omnivorous participants,[vi]although this only considered a very small sample size.

There is also the increased possibility of deficiency in certain nutrients for those who follow a vegan diet, including vitamins B12 and D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.iiSome of these make an important contribution to good dental health, so care should be taken to increase consumption through a carefully constructed diet or supplements.

 

In practice

Do you routinely ask new patients if they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet? Is it something you update regularly with those patients you have seen for years? While these diets are not definitively good or bad for them, it’s important for you to be aware of your patients’ lifestyle choices so you can tailor your oral health advice and treatment to their needs.

Being equipped to offer guidance on possible substitutes and supplements that boast the minerals and vitamins necessary for dental health is essential. Nutrition is one of many areas closely linked to oral health and we should be able to support all patients, no matter what type of diet they choose to follow.

In addition, showing interest in a patient’s lifestyle and demonstrating empathy through suggestions of products, treatments or materials that reflect the patient’s ideals is likely to be greatly appreciated by them. This is very much the remit of dental hygienists and dental therapists as part of a holistic and preventive approach to oral health maintenance. For information and support in these and many other matters, membership to the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) provides a network of professionals from which to draw inspiration. We currently have more than 3,600 members with a vast range of experience and expertise for you to utilise in many different areas of your role. Our regional study days also cover everything from nutrition to implant maintenance, career development and patient communication.

We all see a variety of patients with different cultures, beliefs and lifestyles, and being able to deliver appropriate advice and guidance for them is a crucial aspect of high quality care. With more and more people following a vegetarian or vegan diet, this is just one area we should be staying up-to-date with.

 

For more information about the BSDHT, please visit www.bsdht.uk,

call 01788 575050 or email enquiries@bsdht.org.uk

 

 

[i]Juan W, Yamini S, Britten P. Food intake patterns of self-identified vegetarians among the US population, 2007-2010. 38thNational Nutrient Databank Conference. Procedia Food Science 4, 2015;86-93

[ii]Craig WJ. Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, 1 May 2009, Pages 1627S–1633S,https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N

[iii]Staufenbiel I, Weinspach K, Geurtsen W, Gunay H. Periodontal conditions in vegetarians: a clinical study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition May 2013; 67:836-840

[iv]Venugopal T, Kulkarni VS, Nerurker RA, Damle SG, Patnekar PN. Epidemiological study of dental caries. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. November 1998, 65(6);883-889doi.org/10.1007/BF02831355

[v]Lashkari KP, Raghunath R. Assessment of the influence of vegetarian and nonvegetarian diet on the occurrence of dental caries in Sullia, India. International Journal of Oral Care and research. Pctober-Decmber 2016. 4(4);247-250

[vi]Laffranchi L, Zotti F, Bonetti S, Dalessandri D, Fontana P. Oral implications of the vegan diet: observational study. Minerva Stomatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;59(11-12):583-91.


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