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Protecting your smile on a vegan diet

Going vegan is a great way to help the planet and it can have several health benefits. But if you’re considering going vegan, it’s important to ensure you’re still getting your intake of essential vitamins, including those that keep your mouth healthy. With effective planning, you can ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs.

It’s also important to bear in mind the sugar and acidity within your diet, and steps you can take to protect your smile.

Nutrients that are essential for your oral health

A range of vitamins and minerals are vital for your overall wellbeing and dental health. These can be found in various food and drinks. For non-vegans, many come from dairy products, meat and fish, so on a vegan diet, it’s important to make the substitutions your body needs.

Here we explore some key nutrients for a healthy smile, which are important to keep check on a vegan diet, and how you can get your intake:

Calcium

As you may know, calcium is vital for maintaining healthy teeth, gums and bones. It also helps strengthen the tooth enamel (the thin outer-shell of the tooth).

Non-vegan calcium rich foods include cheese, milk and yoghurt. For vegans, good sources include:

  • Leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and okra
  • Pulses, almonds, chia seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Unsweetened oat, rice, soya and nut drinks which have been fortified. This means they’ve had nutrients added to them that don’t occur naturally
  • Calcium-fortified tofu
  • Tahini
  • Oranges and dried fruits such as raisins, prunes, figs and apricots- although you should consume this in moderation as they can contain a lot of sugar

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb phosphate and calcium from food, which we need to keep our teeth, bones and muscles healthy. It also helps keep our immune system in working order, which fights off disease and infection.

On a vegan diet, you can get your Vitamin D intake through the following:

  • Vitamin D-fortified food and drinks including cereals, fat spreads and unsweetened milk drinks
  • Mushrooms
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Vitamin D supplements – In the UK, taking supplements is advised from at least October through to March. However, these aren’t all vegan-friendly so make sure you check the label.

Iron

An essential mineral, iron transports oxygen through the body. If your intake is too low, you may become fatigued, which can impact everything from brain function to how well your immune system can fight infections.

Iron deficiency can also show in various oral symptoms such as mouth ulcers, a burning feeling inside the mouth, a dry mouth, swollen tongue and sore cracks at the sides of your mouth.

While non-vegan sources of iron include liver and red-meat, good plant sources include:

  • Beans, lentils, chickpeas, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground linseed, cashew nuts, chia seeds and quinoa
  • Fortified breakfast cereal
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Tofu
  • Kale, figs, broccoli, spring greens, dried apricots and raisins

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 is also essential to keep our bodies functioning as they should. Among its benefits, including boosting your mood and improving bone health, it can help prevent mouth ulcers, soreness on the tongue and other oral health issues.

While Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, seafood and dairy products, it can also be found in the following fortified sources:

  • Cereals
  • Milk alternatives
  • Almonds
  • Yeast extracts
  • Vegan spreads

Protecting your smile from sugars and acidity

No matter your diet, it’s important to keep an eye on the sugar and acid you’re consuming – which impacts your overall health, and your smile. Some food and drinks with high sugar levels and acidity can be prominent in vegan diets.

Here we discuss how acid and sugar affects your mouth, and tips for managing this:

Acidity:

Acidic food and drinks such as tomatoes, tomato-based products, oranges and lemons can wear away the protective enamel layer of our teeth. When tooth enamel weakens, it can leave the dentin (a layer under the tooth enamel) exposed, and at risk of sensitivity. These effects can result in tooth discolouration and eventually tooth decay.

Top tips include:

  • Eating alkaline products (such as vegan cheese) alongside or after acidic foods or drinks. This can neutralise the acidity of your saliva and protect your teeth’s enamel
  • After eating acidic foods, rinsing your mouth with water will dilute the acidity
  • To protect your teeth, you should always wait half an hour to an hour after eating before you brush your teeth. This is especially important after consuming acidic products as acid softens the enamel, so brushing right after will only accelerate tooth wear

Sugar levels:

Sugary food and drinks are the main cause of tooth decay, as well as other health problems. Sugar is often added to various products, including flavoured/sweetened milks and yoghurts, sauces, cereals, soft drinks and canned fruit in syrups. And it naturally occurs in sources such as honey, fruit and dried fruit.

Top tips include:

  • Being mindful of your sugar intake. Current advice is to keep your sugar intake at less than 10% of your total daily calories. This differs for everyone, depending on a range of factors, but it’s approximately 70g for men and 50g for women1
  • Avoiding snacking on sugary food or drinks throughout the day. If you’re going to eat something sugary, try to consume it all in one go or with a meal
  • Checking the labels on supermarket packaging using the ‘traffic light system’. If something is ‘red’ for sugar content, you may want to consider an alternative option
  • For managing your child’s sugar intake, see our blog post with handy tips on swapping sugary suspects with less sugary options

Get in touch to discuss your oral health

It’s important to regularly see your dentist for a dental check-up, where they can check your mouth is healthy, and for any signs of tooth decay.

As your diet can influence your oral health, we advise letting your dentist know if your diet changes.

* Study sponsored by Align Technology and based on adult Class I, nonextraction, mild to moderate crowding cases with SmartTrack material. *David W. White, Katie C. Julien, Helder Jacob, Phillip M. Campbell and Peter H. Buschang, Discomfort associated with Invisalign and traditional brackets: A randomized, prospective trial. The Angle Orthodontist Nov 2017, Vol. 87, No. 6 pp. 801-808
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