There are now thought to be in excess of half a million vegans in the UK according to the Vegan Society. Add to that, a growing section of the population who are increasing the number of plant based meals they consume, and it would appear that this is a growing trend that may be here to stay.
There have been many studies which have advocated the health benefits of a vegan diet, with the caveat that care needs to be taken to obtain the right nutrition.
There have also been notes of caution from the dental profession as there are risks to the teeth, especially if you follow this diet without being aware of the potential harm to your teeth in doing so if you don’t take the correct precautions.
A restricted diet?
When patients come to our handy Addlestone dental clinic, we don’t generally ask them about their diet, although some chose to tell us so. We do sometimes detect signs that their diet may be falling short of what is necessary to keep teeth and gums healthy though, and we will come to those in a minute.
We should say that the purpose of this blog is not to deter or encourage people to choose (or not) a vegan diet, but to present some of the facts so that you can make your own decisions.
A vegan diet can be said to be a ‘restrictive’ diet as it cuts out a lot of products that are available to us. The same can be said for some other diets such as the Keto diet. Vegans will point out that it also introduces new foods which we may otherwise not have eaten, and whilst this is true, it is also true that a plant only diet can mean certain challenges in getting the right nutrition.
What is ‘lacking’ from a vegan diet?
One of the best well known vitamins that vegans can struggle to get is B12 and a lack of this can lead to anemia. Many vegan foods are supplemented with this to provide it.
From a dental perspective, one of the most important things that a vegan diet is low in is calcium. As we know, this is a mineral that is an essential building block of not only our bones, but also our teeth. If we lack calcium it can cause a number of problems including weak and brittle teeth that can break easily, irritated gums and tooth decay.
Most of us get calcium, along with vitamin D, another essential vitamin for healthy teeth, from dairy products. These are eliminated if you follow a vegan diet and so need to be obtained from another source. They are present in some plants such as leafy green vegetables and are often added to ready made foods. It may not be as easily assimilated this way though and vegans should take care to read up on food combinations that allow adequate absorption.
Fruits and acidity
Vegans vary in the type of plant based diet that they follow. Some will happily eat vegan ready meals, whilst others will want to eat as naturally as they can. This sometimes involves eating a lot of fruit; indeed, there are ‘fruitarians’ who only eat fruit and other plants which grow above ground. Eating fruit is generally a positive thing to do from a health perspective, but it can have its drawbacks, especially if eaten in excess.
Some fruits that we eat, such as oranges and lemons, may be high in vitamin C but they are also high in acids that can be really harmful for our teeth. Eating too much of this type of fruit may well lead to erosion of the enamel of the teeth. This not only increases the risk of tooth decay but will almost certainly lead to teeth being more sensitive. When this happens, one restorative option open to patients is to have the damaged enamel replaced with porcelain dental veneers. Whilst these are an excellent option where needed, it is obviously much better to avoid the erosion in the first place if possible.
It is worth also noting that a vegan diet can be a very unhealthy diet too. Whilst many vegans are probably interested in the health aspect, you could, theoretically, be a vegan who lives on (vegan) cake and chips along with chocolates and sweets. This may be extreme but there are probably some who veer too far towards this end of the diet.
As readers of our blog will know, sugar is probably the number one enemy for healthy teeth (with smoking being not so far behind). Whether you eat meat or not, too much sugar will very likely result in tooth decay and the need for fillings or extractions. If you are a vegan and also lack calcium and eat too many acidic foods, your decay may happen that much quicker.
It is not our intention to recommend a particular diet, but it is important that our patients are aware of the potential pitfalls so that they can make choices to avoid them.
Vegan or not, you will still need to see a dentist at the Sync Dental Centres for regular six monthly check ups. To make an appointment to see us, please call our Addlestone clinic on 01932 856541 and we’ll be pleased to get you booked in!