Research summary : Plant-based milks : the dental perspective

A summary of: Sumner, O., Burbridge, L. Plant-based milks: the dental perspective. British Dental Journal. 2020.

A quarter of people used plant-based milks in 2019 which is an increase compared to previous years. The increased consumption is a trend driven by the 16-24 age group.
The aim of the study was to compare the nutritional benefits of plant-based milks available in the UK to the nutritional benefits of cow’s milk. The secondary aim was to identify the possible causes for the increased consumption of plant-based milks and to discuss how this is dentally relevant.
In December 2019, 82 branded plant-based milks from UK supermarkets were identified and their nutritional data was collected.

Why are consumers switching from dairy milk to plant-based alternatives

  • Lactose intolerance
  • CMPA (Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy) which although rare is one of the most common food allergies in early life 
  • Ethical, environmental or perceived health reasons – growing popularity of vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian diets, 65% of UK population is expected to follow one of these diets by 2025

Key differences between dairy milk and plant-based alternatives 


Lactose naturally occurs in cow’s milk, however it is not classed as a ‘free sugar’ and has low cariogenic potential. The same cannot be said for plant based milks. The plant based milks available in UK supermarkets were found to contain sugar within the range of  0-8.7g/100 ml. When compared to Coca-cola which is 10.6g/100 ml, this is a substantial amount. This issue is likely confounded by labelling appearing on plant-based milks such as ‘no added sugar’ or ‘natural sugar’ and hence the consumer may not be aware of the high sugar content and consequently detriment to their oral health. The recommended daily sugar intake in the UK is 30g/day, and one glass of some brands of plant-based milk could provide up to a third of adult recommended intake.


Iodine is required for brain and neurological function as it is an essential component of thyroid hormones. Milk and dairy are one of the main sources of dietary iodine. Cow’s milk contains 30-43 mcg/100 ml of iodine whereas many plant based milks do not list any values for iodine content. There is a potential for population-wide iodine deficiency due to the reduced consumption of cow’s milk.

Calcium and vitamin B12

Plant based milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 to a level similar to naturally occurring levels in cows milk. It is however thought that the calcium may not be as biologically available as the calcium in cow’s milk.

The main concerns are free sugar content in plant based milks (for both dental and general health) and also the lack of iodine. Little is known about the buffering ability and pH of plant based milk and this is a potential area for future research.

Miriam Jiagbogu BDS4

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