I rarely write about my experiences with the vegan diet because I know it is such a controversial topic. I have previously shared my history with health and nutrition and my experience recovering my period on a vegan diet. Earlier this year I also posted an article Veganuary: Is a vegan diet best for the planet? where I mentioned that I no longer follow a vegan diet and my current thoughts about what an environmentally sustainable diet is. I haven’t spoken in detail about the health issues I experienced as a vegan because I know it can create strong emotions in some people and I understand that those still in the paradigm that a vegan diet is optimal for humans can take it quite personally when others decide it isn’t right for them.
At some point, I will speak in depth about how a vegan diet impacted my health and if this is something that interests you, you can leave a comment below this post or send me a personal message. In this post however, I do want to speak about one specific problem I had whilst following a vegan diet and that is dental issues. I visited the dentist yesterday which is what has inspired this post which has been a long time coming! Prior to adopting a plant-based diet, I never had any issues with my teeth. I had some slight crowding of my front teeth since childhood but other wise I had zero cavities or teeth removed in my whole adult life. I looked after my teeth well, visited the dentist regularly and never had any reason to worry about my teeth.
But after 3 years as a vegan and 2 years mostly plant-based, I started to have problems with my teeth. First with increased tooth sensitivity and feeling of weakness in my teeth and then the appearance of my teeth also started to change. It was my boyfriend that first noticed a difference visually. He came back after being away for a couple of months and he straight away asked what was wrong with my teeth. I looked in the mirror and noticed that they had a slight transparent, almost greyish tinge to them. I also checked my back teeth with a mirror and saw lots of small pinholes in my molars. As well as this, I had been told by my dentist a year previously that some of my gums had started to recede which he thought was a result of brushing too hard, now I’m not sure whether it was due to that or it was a result of nutritional deficiencies.
I was very worried but we were in the middle of a stressful time with the COVID pandemic and also preparing to leave the UK and move to Greece so I let it slide. I made some small changes like changing my toothpaste. rinsing with salt water after every meal and reducing the amount of acidic fruit I was eating but nothing too serious. But once we were settled in our new place, I noticed that things were not getting better and I also developed a dark spot on one of my front teeth. This really freaked me out and I immediately vowed to change my diet. One of the arguments against veganism is that it is bad for your teeth because it cuts out all dairy which is known to support strong teeth and bones.
Up until this point, I was so far into the vegan agenda that I believed dairy was acidic for the body and actually caused leaching of minerals from the teeth. I believed that plant-based sources of calcium such as broccoli, kale and sesame seeds (tahini) were adequate and even optimal for humans. However, this experience finally shocked me into the decision to completely let go of the idea that a fully plant-based diet is best for health and to start experimenting with adding in animal products on a more regular basis. I was already eating meat and fish a few times a week but I still avoided dairy thinking it was bad for my hormones and for the environment.
I was very closed minded and in the “vegan bubble” where I was listening mainly to sources promoting a vegan or plant-based diet as the healthiest and most sustainable diet. As a yoga teacher, I also have many friends and colleagues who are vegetarian or vegan and so it felt very difficult to step outside of this world and I wondered whether I could still consider myself a true yogi if I was harming animals by eating them. At this point though I was extremely concerned and I didn’t want my ethical ideals to lead to me becoming malnourished or losing my teeth! I started drinking organic goats milk daily, added cheese back into my diet and also started to take an Osteocare supplement which includes calcium and vitamin D, both good for building strong bones and teeth.
I think anything that affects our physical appearance can be the most scary and something that our ego struggles to deal with as our identity is so tied to how we look. I am all for separating our value and self-worth from appearance but in this case I knew that my physical appearance was also sending a message about potential problems on the inside too. Tooth decay is a major sign of dietary imbalances or more serious health conditions. Although it was very difficult emotionally and I had to do a lot of brain rewiring to let go of my previous beliefs, I managed it and I began to see positive changes. Luckily, I found plenty of research available on the impacts of a vegan diet on your teeth and how to heal cavities naturally through a healthy diet which contains plenty of bio-available nutrients.
Surprisingly, after about 6 months on this new way of eating, the spot on my front tooth had completely disappeared and my teeth were looking much whiter. Not only that the sensitivity was hugely reduced and my teeth felt stronger overall. I finally felt comfortable biting into an apple rather than chopping it into small pieces. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a check up and clean and she told me that my teeth are in great health and the amount of plaque build up on my teeth was also much less than my previous visit. The pinhole cavities that had developed have now hardened and they no longer pose a problem. Unfortunately the gums that have receded will never grow back and I will have to manage them to make sure they don’t get any worse.
I know this is a very heavy topic but I think it’s necessary for me to share with anyone who is vegan and experiencing dental problems or who is considering adopting a vegan or plant-based diet. It is very important to be fully informed when making decisions for your health and choosing to adopt a vegan diet is not something that should be taken lightly. According to the UK National Health Service:
“With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs. If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”
Personally, I believe I was very careful with my diet as a vegan. I ate a good variety of foods and consumed fruit, vegetables, starches, beans, nuts and seeds as the base of my diet. I definitely ate more fruit and starchy carbs than the average person but I never went to extremes with my diet like some you see in the online world such as cutting out all fats or eating only one type of fruit for weeks at a time. For a while I did fall into the trap of believing I need to detox to overcome my health issues and I had periods where I would attempt a raw vegan cleanse for a few days but overall my diet was pretty balanced and I always tried to cover my nutritional bases.
I did my research and ate specific foods to obtain nutrients that are harder to find in plant foods such as fortified plant-milks for calcium and vitamin D, nutritional yeast for iron and vitamin B12 and hemp and flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids. I also took supplements to make sure I was getting what I needed. The problem is that just because a food in theory contains a certain amount of a nutrient, it doesn’t mean this is the amount that your body can absorb and utilise. Depending on your personal health status and genetics, you may be less able to extract particular nutrients from foods. For example, nutrients found in plants are often in a less bio-available form than those in animal foods and also found up with fibre which can make it more difficult for your digestive system to process.
I am writing this post not to say that no one should ever follow a plant-based diet or that veganism always causes tooth decay but rather to share a side of the story that is less often talked about. By no means am I saying that vegans are the only ones who suffer with dental problems, there are plenty of omnivorous diets lacking in nutrients which lead to tooth decay and sensitivity. I am just sharing my personal experience as I want to help people make informed decisions about their health, understanding the risks involved with restrictive diets of any kind. If you have experienced similar problems with your teeth after following a vegan diet, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Over to you…
I hope you enjoyed this post about what a vegan diet did to my teeth. Please share with friends and family who may be interested and like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!
If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!