Whether your diet is vegan, vegetarian, or includes meat, science shows that eating plenty of plant-based foods is necessary for optimal health. But if you follow a vegan diet (or are considering doing so), which nutrients could you be missing? What do you need for a healthy mouth and teeth? Here’s what to know—and do.
Protect yourself against vitamin B12 deﬁciency
Insufficient amounts of vitamin B12 can result in gum disease and eventual tooth loss, but fruits and vegetables don’t provide this vital nutrient. There are B12-fortified cereals, yeasts, plant milks, and soy products available. However, these may not provide you enough B12, and you may need to take supplements to keep up your health. The Vegan Society has helpful information on recommended amounts.
Eat vegan sources of remineralizing foods
When you eat, acid erosion from certain foods (such as starches and sugars) may cause your teeth to begin losing the minerals that keep their enamel healthy and strong. But your teeth can gain back lost minerals if you’re also eating foods that supply them. Non-vegan remineralizing food suggestions frequently include dairy choices. For vegans, the best remineralizing foods are explained below.
To get calcium, which strengthens tooth enamel and builds strong teeth, eat beans and legumes including black-eyed peas and lentils; leafy greens such as broccoli, collard greens, kale, and spinach; almonds; and calcium-added orange juice or vegan milks such as almond, rice, or soy milk.
You can also keep your teeth strong by eating foods that contain potassium, which controls acid levels within your blood. Without this control, excess acid may deplete calcium levels within your bones and teeth. Good vegan sources of potassium include avocadoes, bananas, potatoes, prunes, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, and tomatoes.
For vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium (thus contributing to healthy teeth), good vegan sources are fortified cereal and portabella mushrooms. You can also help your body make vitamin D naturally when you go outside in the sun; just remember to wear sunscreen! You may also wish to consider taking vitamin D or combination calcium/vitamin D supplements.
Phosphorus rebuilds your tooth enamel, and you can get it from vegan foods such as lentils, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans.
Eat vegan sources of amino acids for plaque control
The amino acid arginine helps prevent cavities and gum disease, and also breaks down dental plaque. It’s frequently found in meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and dairy. Vegan sources of arginine include chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans; peanuts; and pumpkin seeds.
Prevent dry mouth with vegan sources of vitamin A
Vitamin A keeps your mucous membranes healthy and helps prevent dry mouth. Excellent sources of vitamin A are bright orange foods such as apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes. Leafy green foods including collard greens, kale, and spinach are also great sources of vitamin A.
Help your body heal with foods rich in vitamin K
Your body heals most easily when you have a sufficient intake of vitamin K. Without enough of this vitamin, you may bleed more easily and it can take longer to heal after an injury or surgery. You can boost your body’s healing processes by eating green vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, parsley, and spinach—all great sources of vitamin K.
Snack healthily and limit starches and sugars
If you’re eating a vegan diet with small amounts of protein and fat, you may find that you need snacks to keep up your energy during the day. Sugary and starchy foods (such as bread, cereal, crackers, muffins, pasta, and rice) can feed the bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay. Try instead to choose non-sugary snack foods that will replenish your energy, such as nuts, seeds, tofu, and vegetables.
Practice good oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly
After you eat, take 20 seconds to rinse your mouth vigorously with water to help eliminate leftover food particles and acid. Floss your teeth daily and brush them twice a day for two minutes each time—and of course, schedule regular teeth cleanings and dental checkups. Your oral health is part of your overall health!
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