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Health concerns about fat and cholesterol have prompted many people to become vegetarians, and the nutritional deficiencies that can sometimes result may reveal themselves during dental exams.
Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Ludwig Leibsohn, DDS says he usually asks patients if they adhere to vegetarian or other special diets.
"Most adult vegetarians are very knowledgeable about nutrition," says Dr. Leibsohn. "They maintain their diets in a proper fashion."
Children, however, need a well-balanced and nutritionally complete diet for proper growth, and the potential for deficiencies is greatest among children and teenagers who put themselves on vegetarian diets without knowing enough about their nutritional needs.
Although vegetarian diets vary, some vegetarians, particularly those who do not consume any food of animal origin, can experience deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 or complete proteins. Studies show that by eating the right amount of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, they can get the nutrients they need.
"An adult on a vegetarian diet for a prolonged period can be at increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease from a lack of vitamin D and calcium," says Dr. Leibsohn.
Dr. Leibsohn recommends that anyone considering adopting a vegetarian diet seek counseling from their dentist or a nutritionist to learn about substituting foods to get all the necessary nutrients. He also suggests taking a multiple vitamin daily.
Teeth may soften when there is a shortage of vitamin D, becoming more susceptible to decay and periodontal disease. Vitamin D is produced in the body with sun exposure, so deficiencies are rare, but it can develop in those who do not consume milk or fish. Adding vegetable margarines or soy milk to the diet may solve the problem.
Diet is an important part of an individual's medical history, and patients should always inform their dentist if they adhere to vegetarian or other special diets, says Dr. Leibsohn.
Reviewed: January 2012
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