What's my vegan lifestyle got to do with my dentist?

If you're vegan curious, you're not alone. Faced with the western world's shocking neglect of its health, many of us are looking for alternative ways to maintain our wellbeing.

Alongside this, a general concern for the global economy, welfare of animals, climate change and effects on our planet - as well as easier access to a wider variety of plant-based ingredients - explains why veganism has become the faster growing lifestyle movements in the UK.

According to a study by the Vegan Society, at least 542,000 Brits now follow a vegan diet by never consuming any animal products, such as meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and honey, nor using animal products or by-products.

With 42% of British vegans aged 15 to 34, its popularity is blossoming.

Indeed, with news last month that a vegan diet could also prevent, treat and even reverse type 2 diabetes [1], opting for a plant-based diet grows ever more attractive.

Amanda Butler is a nurse and committed vegan. She has been a vegetarian for 34 years and a vegan for 18 months. Her decision started with an awareness of the impact of the dairy trade on society and the environment.

She says: 'This was never an easy option or a casual decision but it is one I am proud to have made and which I continually test and reaffirm. I do not purchase products containing animal products or any product that has been tested on animals.'

But when it came to a trip to the dentist, she was disappointed in the lack of information her practice could offer.

She explains: 'I do not always refuse medical treatment on the basis of the provenance of the drugs and products prescribed. However, I do want to make informed choices about the use of such products for myself and my children.'

So, how might veganism impact on a dental check up?

Surprisingly, whilst many consider a vegan lifestyle a healthy option, it can have a negative impact on our oral health.

Glenys Bridges is a dental educator and management consultant. She explains: 'When choosing a vegan lifestyle, we can put a different set of stresses on our teeth.

'There may be extra wear and enamel erosion due to a high raw diet. Very often vegans graze throughout the day, which means multiple acid attacks on teeth, too.'

A vegan diet is more likely to lead to tooth decay because more fruit is consumed and, while good for your health, fruit contains acids that erode teeth. With more exposure to acidity in lemons, oranges, pineapple, tomatoes, and other acidic foods (as well as roasted vegetables) and high sugar dried fruits, it's a problem.

The high acidity leaves the teeth in a weakened state with vegans, who are not eating a variety of other foods to balance it out.

A diet needs a mix of carbohydrates and proteins and fats and your dental hygienist may ask where you are sourcing proteins and fats in order to ensure this well-balanced diet.

Glenys says: 'Fats come from a variety of sources - olive oil, avocados, eggs and fish, some of which will not be eaten by vegans. Proteins and fats are an essential part of a diet, especially for those having dental procedures as these promote healing.

'Carbohydrate levels should also be monitored and controlled if you are high fruit consumers, especially if some of the sweeter vegetables are included in the diet, such as carrots and beetroot.'

Meanwhile, Amanda suggests you may wish to consider the following before your next trip to the dentist:

  • The ingredients in any recommended homecare dental products and whether they are tested on animals or include animal products
  • Whether you find X-rays an acceptable part of your check-up
  • The use of fluoride toothpaste
  • The materials used for treatment, including local anaesthesia. Are they tested on animals and do they include animal products?
  • Sustainability and the environmental impact of dental services, such as greenhouse gases, pollution and waste management.

Reference

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27253526

Julie Bissett is a freelance journalist. Follow Julie on twitter: @JulesBiscuit