We talk a lot about what you should and shouldn’t be eating for healthy teeth. There are the obvious things that you shouldn’t be consuming – candy and soda, for example, will destroy your enamel slowly but surely. On the other hand, there are those foods that make your teeth stronger and whiter.
When it comes to taking care of your teeth, it’s more than just brushing and flossing – though those things are still incredibly important. But there’s no denying that diet plays a big part in oral health. Even when we were younger, we were taught that drinking milk and eating cheese would contribute to strong and healthy teeth.
Foods that are typically known for being better for teeth are usually those that are full of vitamins like calcium and phosphorus, and these foods tend to fall into the dairy and meat categories. So the big question is this: what does that mean for people who choose the vegan diet?
The Vegan Diet
People who are considering making the switch to a plant-based diet may be wondering if it can have a negative impact on their teeth and overall health. The reality is that many vegans will immediately make drastic changes to their diets, completely eliminating two of the biggest food groups. Vegan diets typically remove protein and dairy, and these two food groups are primary contributors for the vitamins that are key to healthy teeth and bones. A balanced diet for overall health, according to ChooseMyPlate, includes the five groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy
Dental Problems That May Arise
Those who practice veganism will need to be careful of what substitutions they make. Since they cannot eat meat or dairy products as part of their diet, vegans sometimes run into dental problems as a result of substituting meat and dairy with grain and sugar products. Those who eliminate meat and animal products for a long period of time may also have deficiencies in vitamins that are essential to their oral health.
As a result of these deficiencies, vegans and vegetarians alike discover that they have a higher risk of plaque, cavities, tooth decay and gum disease – not just because of the lack of vitamins and nutrients, but because of the substitutions they are making.
For example, dental erosion and cavities in vegans might be the result of a higher intake of acidic foods and sugary substitutes. As an alternative to foods that contain meat or dairy products, vegans may also be consuming more fruits that are high in natural sugar – resulting in an increased risk of tooth decay.
In addition to that, many people who follow a plant-based diet tend to snack or graze between meals, which can result in a higher risk of plaque. Because of this, you must maintain good oral habits by brushing and flossing regularly to prevent these issues, especially if you adopt a vegan diet.
Essential Vitamins & Nutrients
Some of the essential vitamins and nutrients that are key to healthy teeth are calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and iron. The tricky part is incorporating these into a vegan-friendly diet. But fortunately, there are some alternative ingredients that you can include in your meal to get these essential vitamins and nutrients, which we have broken down here:
A deficiency in calcium can result in a higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay. While most calcium-products are dairy, there are some vegan-friendly alternatives that you can include in your diet.
Get some calcium into your diet by drinking non-dairy beverages that are fortified with calcium, such as orange juice, soymilk, or almond milk. Other options are tofu, beans (specifically, edamame), and leafy greens – like kale, spinach, and bok choy.
This is one of the main minerals that your body needs, as it supports calcium. According to this article by Delta Dental, phosphorus is so abundant in foods that it is unlikely that you aren’t getting enough of it. However, it appears that this mineral is abundant in primarily meat and dairy products.
Although phosphorus is found in mostly seafood, meat, and cheese, there are some vegan options. Plant-based alternatives are soybeans, nuts and nut butters, grains, lentils, and pumpkin seeds.
This is another vitamin that vegans tend to develop a deficiency in, and this is because it is primarily found in non-vegan foods. Vitamin B12 is essential to your overall health, and coming up short on it could be detrimental to your whole body – not just your teeth.
Some sources of B12 that are vegan-friendly are spinach, almonds, bagels, and pasta. Other options to get that daily requirement are fortified milk-alternatives and supplements for this essential vitamin.
When patients start to feel tongue inflammation or sores in the mouth, they will often come to their dentist to determine the cause of the issue. The reality is that this is usually caused by an iron deficiency. It’s common for a plant-based diet to be lower in iron, but it is still very important that you get this essential vitamin.
Some non-meat ingredients that you can incorporate into your meals for more iron are dark leafy greens, peas, nuts and seeds, and some dried fruits and cereals.
This vitamin is essential to helping your body absorb calcium, and is key for strengthening your bones and teeth. While your body produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, you should also be eating foods that are rich in this vitamin.
The tough part is that foods that are rich in Vitamin D are usually dairy or milk products. A naturally occurring option is mushrooms. Most other options are foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as fortified tofu, soy or almond milk, and plant-based supplements.
Maintaining Good Oral Health While On A Vegan Diet
It can be tough, but don’t give up! It is still possible to follow the vegan diet while also taking care of your teeth and overall health. Staying in good health while on a plant-based diet is all about eating a well-balanced diet with all of the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs, avoiding acidic and sugary foods (even if they are vegan-friendly), and keeping up with brushing and flossing routine. Lastly, and most importantly, visit your dentists for regular check ups. That goes for everyone!
When you choose to adopt any kind of diet, it’s important to consult your dentist, doctor, and nutritionist who can help you make the right decisions for your body. With the help of these health professionals, you can make sure that you get the right amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus without meat and dairy.
Since adopting a plant-based diet can potentially pose a risk to your dental health, vegans will have to be extra careful about keeping up with good oral hygiene and staying away from foods that are sugary or acidic. As always, your team of dentists at New Generation Dentistry is here to help if you have any questions about how you can promote your dental health while maintaining a vegan diet.