Are you considering or already following a plant based diet and wondering how vegan food can affect your dental health? The effects of vegan or vegetarian diets on health, especially oral health, are still widely debated. In this article we will look into some of the benefits as well as some of the risks.
Veganism is the practice of refraining from the use or consumption of any animal products which undoubtedly have a huge impact on diet as meat and dairy items are no longer consumed. The number of vegans increasing more and more each year, it is likely that now more than ever that our patients will be consuming a plant based diet. The mere principle of eating a plant-based diet is overflowing with many positive for oral health
Although not following a strict vegan diet, there are many individuals who are taking the steps to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products due to health, ethical and environmental reasons. This trend is on the rise which emphasises the importance of understanding the impacts veganism has on oral health.
The start of a new year is the start of new resolutions and January is a popular month to go vegan or just the month that a lot of people try to eat less meat.
Often, following Veganuary or generally becoming vegan is often a choice towards leading towards trying to live a healthier lifestyle. The principle of eating a plant-based diet has many positives for oral health as nutrition is a key component of great oral health.
We already know oral health is a big component of your overall health. It influences your immune system and directly affects your periodontal condition. Periodontal disease correlates with increased risks of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
The Vegan Lifestyle
Evidence suggests that when it comes to oral hygiene, vegans are definitely doing it better.
Becoming a vegan or even trialling out the healthier lifestyle this month will often coincide with an individual interested in leading a healthier lifestyle which often comes with extra attention to oral health practises.
There is also evidence that suggests vegans are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or consume high-sugar loaded drinks which aids their oral health immensely. However, vegans do have an increased consumption of other sugars that are masked under a ‘healthy’ guise such as fruit juices and smoothies. Although these contain natural sugars, the sugar content can also be quite high and have the same erosive potential as other acidic high sugar drinks.
The popular lemon in hot water drink that is often claimed as a ‘detox drink’ usually heavily appeals to vegans or those who are wanting to adopt healthier lifestyle choices. However, you need to be aware that these ‘healthier choices’ can have harsh erosive effects on your teeth.
Smoothies and juices are a very popular way to get your 5-a-day in one quick gulp; however, depending on what you put in these smoothies or juices, they can actually do more harm to your teeth than you are aware of. Some of these smoothies can not only stain your teeth but actually permanently damage them. This is due to the natural high levels of sugars in fruit and vegetables. Even though they are natural sugars, they have the same harmful effects as those in soft drinks.
Many people seem to be under the impression that being vegan just means not to eat anything animal related but it goes beyond that. Vegans often need to find a new toothpaste to suit their new dietary preferences. What we are noticing is that most vegan friendly toothpastes are fluoride free. Since fluoride is still the definite gold standard for cavity prevention, we recommend that you try to find a vegan toothpaste that does include fluoride so your teeth are protected as much as possible.
Many toothpastes are not vegan because they have glycerine, which is derived from animal fat. However, vegan toothpaste options do not use any products derived from animals. There are great cruelty-free vegan fluoride toothpastes available in the UK that offer good protection against tooth decay.
Dental Health Problems and Veganism
Due to the restrictive nature of vegan diets, they can lead to some dental health problems. This is because you will likely not be getting the same nutrients as you were before. This is especially true when you first become vegan, as it can take time to understand exactly which nutrients and minerals you are lacking.
One of the biggest drops will be in your calcium levels. This is often due to calcium often coming primarily from dairy products. Once you cut out milk, cheese etc, it may take some time to adjust your diet to compensate for this loss. Of course, calcium is vital for healthy teeth and gums, specifically for hardening the enamel in your teeth. Luckily, many vegan products like broccoli are great sources of calcium.
You may also find your vitamin D levels dropping after becoming a vegan. This is because the best sources of vitamin D, other than the sun, are things like fish and eggs. Vitamin D is important to keep your teeth strong and is essential for calcium to be absorbed.
Amino acids are another important part of your diet that you may need to compensate for. Amino acids help breakdown plaque and the body often gets them from meat, fish and dairy products. Other sources of amino acids are vegan, however.
How to Keep Your Teeth Healthy on a Vegan Diet
Along with your diet there are so many other factors that contribute to your dental health including your dental hygiene, daily habits, personal health and lifestyle as well as levels of fluoride in the water you are drinking. Below we have listed some steps you can take to ensure that your dental health does not suffer as a result of a vegan diet.
- Try to keep your intake of acidic and sugary foods to a minimum
- Rinse your mouth with water after meals and snacks
- Fruit is better eaten whole rather than in a juice
- Avoid frequent snacking
- Don’t brush straight after your meals, wait at least 30 mins to 1 hour after your meal to prevent enamel erosion
- Be sure to use fluoride toothpaste and brush your teeth twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss every day.
If you are considering adopting a vegan lifestyle or are concerned about how your diet may be affecting your oral health, schedule an appointment to speak with one of our dentists. They can offer you appropriate advice and guidance to keep you and your teeth healthy.