Veganism And Your Oral Health
Becoming vegan might help your health and the planet, but beware of the risks to your teeth!
It is thought that there are now somewhere in the region of half a million people in the UK who follow a vegan diet, with many more also gradually changing to plant based foods. There are many reasons for this including health, morals and ecological and much evidence points to this number increasing in the years to come.
Any type of diet that is restrictive though will almost inevitably have its downsides and veganism is no exception. Even if you overcome the various challenges such as eating out and potentially difficult social occasions, following a vegan diet can pose a number of risks to your teeth if you don’t take sufficient care.
Your local Streatham dentists take a look below at some of the most significant factors that can lead to poor oral health in some vegans.
One of the most obvious issues is that, by its nature, a vegan diet omits all dairy products. This means that foods such as cheese and milk are absent. As these are an important source of calcium for most of us, it can mean that this is deficient in vegans unless good care is taken. Calcium and vitamin D which is also high in dairy products, are essential building blocks for strong and healthy tooth enamel. If this is weakened, the risk of tooth decay and cavities becomes much higher.
Vegans can obtain these vitamins and minerals from other sources, including both fortified ‘meat substitute’ foods and natural foods such as leafy green vegetables and sesame products. However, consideration should also be given to how well these are absorbed as combining the right foods may be the only way to attain sufficient for a healthy diet.
Vegans do sugar. It is totally plant based, and from a vegan perspective, there is no reason why it can’t be eaten. This means that foods that are high in sugar, whether they be cakes, convenience foods or even naturally high sugar foods such as fruit will still come into contact with their teeth. Unless you opt for a sugar free diet as well, you are as much at risk as a meat eater of suffering from cavities.
Whether vegan or meat eater, more of us snack throughout the day than our parents would have done. This is probably due to the wider availability and range of foods available to facilitate this. Although not specific to vegans, they are perhaps more susceptible to this due to the speed that vegan food passes through the body, leaving an ‘empty’ feeling. It can also happen in situations where vegans have been unable to access a suitable meal and have not fulfilled their initial hunger, perhaps when travelling. This is probably less likely than in the past as more vegan foods are widely available, but it might be an issue in areas where a vegan lifestyle is still considered to be ‘not normal’. If you are travelling, it is certainly wise to pack a few healthy and tooth friendly snacks to take with you, just in case.
Everybody can eat fruits of course, but many vegans also aim to eat healthier and are likely to include a large amount of fruit in their diet. Many of these fruits, such as oranges, are not only high in sugars but in acid content too. As we have mentioned in previous blogs, a high acidity diet is a key cause of enamel erosion. As the enamel becomes degraded, patients that suffer this are likely to suffer from sensitive teeth and are also more susceptible to tooth decay too.
The ‘natural’ lifestyle
The reasons for someone becoming vegan can be wide and varied. Many will be happy to eat processed products such as burgers as long as they are vegan. Others look to the whole lifestyle and try to live much closer to nature than others do. In some cases, this may lead some vegans to choosing only natural products and this includes toothpastes. Whilst there are probably some perfectly good vegan toothpastes available, there has, for a long time, been a debate about the use of fluoride, and because of this, some vegans may avoid toothpastes that contain this. This is a bad mistake to make.
The fluoride in toothpaste is there to strengthen the enamel of your teeth and therefore helps to protect it against the acids and bacteria that attack it on a daily basis. Avoiding toothpastes that contain it is asking for trouble. In fact, recent guidance now advises people not to rinse their mouth after brushing their teeth, but allowing the toothpaste to remain in the mouth for longer so that more fluoride can be absorbed.
If you are considering, or have recently switched to a vegan diet, we hope that you will take the above points into consideration and perhaps do further research to help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. You will also still need to see one of our Streatham dentists to have your teeth checked every six months. We recommend letting the dentist know of your change in diet too, so that we can offer any appropriate advice.
To arrange an appointment at the Confidental Clinic for a check up, please call us on 020 8674 2052.