Can a Meat-Free Diet Be Bad for Your Teeth?

Can a Meat-Free Diet Be Bad for Your Teeth?

In America, we're blessed with a wonderful selection of food to fuel our bodies. Crops are plentiful, and what doesn't grow here arrives via ship or air, creating food lifestyle choices not possible a generation ago. So, if you're more of a fruit and vegetables person, and are either a vegan or vegetarian – or considering these options - we wanted to take a look at how following that lifestyle can affect your teeth. You might be surprised to learn what seems like the best possible choice for the earth, your animal friends, and yourself, comes with a few caveats with regard to your oral health.

Can a Mindful Diet Be Bad for Your Teeth?

What could be better than eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables? After all, every doctor seems to suggest we include more leafy greens and antioxidant-rich fruits into our diets. What could possibly be wrong with just eating food from these two groups? More of the same has to be better, right?  Well, yes, and no.  And, as with everything, it depends on who you ask. Since we’re in the dental profession, and concerned about your teeth, that's the perspective we're going to examine. There are three main concerns when a diet lacks meat and dairy: snacking, acid, and a lack of re-mineralizing food products. Let's take a look:

  1. Snacking: Most of us are familiar with the old rule of thumb that says we should have three square meals a day, and some prefer five to six to spread calories out more evenly. Vegans and vegetarians, however usually find themselves snacking constantly to meet their body's need for energy. And constant snacking is not good at all for your teeth. From the moment you put food into your mouth, the pH level in your oral cavity drops, creating a more acidic environment that wears down tooth enamel and provides a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. For those of us who eat 3-6 meals a day, this setback is temporary, and only lasts for about a half hour beyond a meal. For snackers, though, this acidic environment continues, on and on, until the snacking ceases.
  2. Acid: What further complicates this approach to eating is the type of food vegetarians and vegans (particularly raw vegans), are prone to snack on – carbohydrate-rich acidic fruit, or dry sticky fruits. This double-whammy of a constantly acidic mouth from snacking doused with even more acid from fruit is a recipe for weak enamel and cavities. To counter this effect, snack less, avoid sticky fruits, choose more firm, less-acidic fruits, chew gum with Xylitol, and keep a bottle of water nearby to continually rinse your mouth. Also, don't rush to brush your teeth until a half hour after snacking. Doing so while the enamel is temporarily softened due to its acidic environment, can only make things worse. You may also want to seek out more filling carbohydrate choices such as whole grains. Nuts, which can protect your teeth, can also be a good choice, and provide healthy fats your body needs.
  3. A Lack of Re-mineralizing Foods: And that brings us to the final big hurdle for our vegan and vegetarian friends out there – the general absence of remineralizing foods. Research suggests that meat, dairy and seafood help teeth in two ways. They may help counteract acidity in the mouth, and aid in the remineralization of teeth that have been demineralized in an acidic environment. Meat-free dieters lack these beneficial side-effects of a more omnivorous meal plan. That said, nuts, green leafy vegetables (without too much focus on spinach, which isn't good for your teeth), and sea vegetables can help with remineralization. You may also wish to consider supplements that provide you with the proper balance of vitamins and minerals you may be lacking in your diet. Doing so also ensures the proper absorption of all those great nutrients you are getting from your diet. Consumption without absorption can defeat the goal of a healthy diet.
Maintaining good healthy teeth is an important part of healthy living. That's why it is critical to understand how changes made to our diets affect our teeth. Surely, you will have more questions after reading this article. Conduct some more research on your own to learn more. There is a lot to cover when it comes to these concerns. Also, be sure to speak with your dentist and physician about your lifestyle choices and how to ensure you enjoy a long and happy life – and one that includes keeping all of your teeth as well!