• Despite vegans having overall better periodontal health they are at higher risk of negative oral health including tooth decay.
  • A relatively large proportion of Australian vegans (~25%) actively avoid the use of fluoride in water and toothpaste.

Take Home Message

There are sections of the vegan community whose beliefs and behaviour may be putting their oral health at risk.

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Animal Status

No animals were harmed for this research.

The health of our teeth, gums and mouth is really important for our overall health. Anyone who’s ever had a bad toothache or sore gums can certainly understand how oral health can affect one’s wellbeing. Mostly because oral diseases really bloody hurt. So keeping our teeth healthy seems like a pretty sensible thing to do.   

Despite vegans possibly having overall better periodontal health we are at higher risk of negative oral health in relation to reduced saliva pH, an increase in white spot lesions, increased rates of eroding tooth enamel and tooth decay, and potentially negative impacts to hard dental tissue with a high carbohydrate diet. Given these increased risks, especially in regards to eroding tooth enamel and tooth decay, it is important that vegans take care of their oral health.

A study from the School of Dentistry & Health Science at Charles Sturt University in Australia wanted to know whether the health beliefs and behaviours of vegans might impact their oral health.

How did they do it?

To do this the researchers invited vegans from all across Australia, via vegan facebook groups, to participate in a questionnaire about their oral health beliefs and behaviours. Participation was restricted to vegans living in Australia who were 18 years old or older. Participants were asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire with 18 question.

This included questions about general demographics, veganism, toothpaste use, beliefs about general health, fluoride and oral health, vitamin testing and supplementation (specifically B12 and D) and overall oral health. They used both close ended and Likert scale questions.

What did they find?

Of 503 Australia participants 86% were female and age ranged from 18-75 years. 80% of respondents indicated that they were vegan for ethical reasons.

In regards to oral health, 51% of respondents said they used a vegan branded toothpaste. With the majority of participants choosing to avoid toothpastes that are tested on animals (80%) and indicating they would not use products recommended by a dental professional if it contained animal products (88%). 43% also believed their dental professional did not understand their specific needs as a vegan.

The results seem to suggest that a large proportion of respondents had a general lack of understanding about the causes of bad oral health. With between 22-25% of people not knowing or believing in certain negative impacts on oral health, e.g. the role of carbohydrates in tooth decay or not knowing what causes dental erosion. And interestingly, about 25% of vegans being concerned with the use of fluoride for promoting oral health, with 32% of respondents actively avoiding fluoridated toothpaste.

Finally, only 66% of the participants indicated that they use B12 supplements.

So what does it mean?

It seems that a large number of vegans may be putting themselves at risk of poor oral health due to their beliefs, particularly around the use of fluoride. Even those who don’t mind using fluoride fortified products may be at increased risk because they are using vegan branded toothpastes that are more likely to exclude fluoride.

The safety of fluoridation has been a contentious issue for decades. Extensive reviews have been conducted into the efficacy and safety of fluoridation and suggest that it is beneficial for oral health. Although a systematic review in 2016 suggests that more contemporary and better designed studies need to be conducted in order to make solid conclusions.

It would be interesting to know what the general populations avoidance of fluoride is compared to vegans. This might indicate if this is a specific issue for the vegan community, which may have a higher proportion of people concerned with alternative health.

I don’t think it’s surprising that 86% of vegans wouldn’t use dental products that contained animal products. In fact I’m more surprised that the number wasn’t higher. I mean that’s sort of the point of veganism. However, it was interesting that only 66% of respondents indicated they use B12 supplements, a number that seems quite low considering the importance of B12 supplementation for vegans.

I would have loved to see the data set explored a little more for statistical relationships between variables. For instance, is fluoride skepticism influenced by ‘age’ or ‘reason for being vegan’? Is the willingness to use dental products containing animal products related to ‘reason for being vegan’? There are several interesting questions that could have been investigated.

All in all, I think that this study is a nice snapshot of the Australian vegans beliefs and behaviours regarding oral health. And it’s also great to see that the lead author of this research was an undergraduate student when conducting the study, so congratulations to Christopher!

Post by

Adam with his beautiful cat Fabi

Dr Adam Cardilini

I’m a scientist, teacher and activist. My training is in ecological and environmental science, but I love all science and enjoy sharing it with others.

Title: Health beliefs and behaviours of individuals on a vegan diet in relation to oral health

Authors: Christopher Howlett, Dr Helen Tane

Journal: The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Dental and Oral Health Therapy

Date PublishedDecember 2nd 2016

URL; page 11

Note: The journal in which this paper was published is supported by Colgate.

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Peer-reviewed research

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