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Dental trend spotlight: Veganism

Is a vegan diet bad for your teeth?

Veganism is on the rise. Four years ago, only 1 in every 100 Americans followed the plant-based diet, according to GlobalData. By 2017, 6% of Americans considered themselves vegan.

What is veganism?

Veganism is a diet — or lifestyle — free of animal products. Like vegetarians, vegans don’t eat meat. But they go a step further, avoiding all animal products, such as eggs, dairy products and honey. Some vegans also avoid leather, fur and products tested on animals.

Some vegans are motivated by animal welfare. Others choose a vegan diet to reduce their impact on the planet. Health considerations may also play a role, such as lowering cholesterol.

How does a vegan diet affect your teeth?

Most people can live a healthy life without meat, according to the American Dietetic Association, but vegans may face certain dental risks:

• Nutritional deficiencies. Giving up traditional sources of nutrients can increase the risk for gum disease and tooth decay.

Starch-heavy substitutions. Relying heavily on grains and sugar products as substitutes for meat and dairy can increase your risk of cavities.

What vitamins and minerals should vegans look out for?

Calcium

A key mineral for strengthening your teeth, calcium protects your enamel from cavities. Dairy is a popular source of calcium, but vegan alternatives includes broccoli, leafy greens, soybeans and calcium supplements.

Vitamin D

Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly. Instead of fatty fish, cheese and milk, opt for vegan options like fortified almond milk, soy milk or rice milk. (Check the packaging to see if it’s been enriched with vitamin D.) You can also get vitamin D naturally by being outside in the sunshine.

Phosphorus

Like vitamin D, phosphorous supports calcium in building strong bones and teeth. It’s found in a wide range of foods, including these plant-based options: soybeans, lentils and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin B12

This essential vitamin helps build red blood cells, DNA and more. Without it, you may feel numb, short of breath and in pain. A vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause depression, memory loss and paranoia. Although animal products make up most natural sources of vitamin B12, vegans can turn to seaweed (nori) for a great plant-based source. Vitamin B12 is also available in supplements and is sometimes added to tofu and breakfast cereals.

The verdict: As long as you opt for nutrient-rich alternatives to meat and dairy, veganism isn’t a problem for your oral health.

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Dental tips for vegans

• Work with a dietician to help you find appropriate sources of key nutrients.

• Discuss your diet with your dentist and physician.

• Brush and floss regularly.

• Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and exams.

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