Does the vegan diet promote healthy teeth?
I recently went vegan a few months ago and instantly went to work to find out everything I could about veganism so I could defend myself. I have almost all of my bases covered so I can answer all my omni family's well meaning concerns for my health, but one issue has recently come up that has me baffled. I just had to have some fillings put in for some cavities in my teeth. I don't think this had to do with my diet, but it has my family all in a tizzy. They did some research about a vegan diet in relation to teeth health and found that healthy teeth has become a big problem with vegans.
I have been researching this diligently and found all kinds of opinions from "just eat more greens and calcium enriched soy products" to "a vegan diet ruined my child's teeth". I am torn over this and worried about the future health of my teeth! Does the vegan diet promote healthy teeth? Help!
Great question, Emily. I've done a little research on this, and it seems it's still subject to some debate (if we have readers with definitive research either way, please let us know).
To start, I will say that when someone is looking to prove something, they can use research on the internet to prove anything. It sounds like your family will have looked and looked until they found that the cavities are caused by your new diet. That's most likely not true.
However, when you change your diet, you change the pH balance of your entire body, including your mouth. It would make sense that it might temporarily change your teeth as well. Since animal products are highly acidic and plant foods are basic, you could have gone from an acidic to a basic mouth very quickly, and your teeth might just be reacting to that change. Keep in mind though that a more alkaline pH is ultimately better for your body.
The reason it's hard to say one way or another is because there are so many other contributing factors. For instance, a person's exact diet, whether they use fluoride in their toothpaste or have fluoridated water sources, the amount of sugar in their diet, the amount of processed foods and white flours, how often they brush and floss, genetics, etc. It's just hard to say one way or another.
What I can say is that research shows that plant-based diets (that are well-balanced with plenty of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts/seeds) are abundant in protein and calcium, the two contributing factors to strong bones and teeth. You've probably read all about that in The China Study. People who drink less cow's milk have less chance of developing osteoporosis than those who drink more.
Also, some foods are proven to actually help prevent and cure dental cavities. Vitamin D, for instance, helps to break down the bad bacteria and can encourage regrowth in the enamel. The only plant source of D is mushrooms, but even a small amount of daily mushrooms can really help your teeth. Also, you might look into xylitol, which is even recommended by the ADA to help treat cavities. There are some gums, toothpastes, and mints like B-Fresh vegan xylitol gum that are totally animal-free, SLS-free, and even contain some vitamin B12.
So, I'd love to hear if any readers have more research for us, but for now, don't worry about losing your teeth because of your new diet. It's better for your whole body, including your teeth.
Hope that helps!