Nutrition to heal tooth decay naturally

Causes of tooth decay on a vegan diet

In my last post I shared my experience with tooth decay on a vegan diet and how I healed my teeth after veganism. Today I want to explain more about the causes of tooth decay, especially on a vegan diet. This is not something that gets talked about enough in the nutrition world. Dietary advice for healthy teeth is usually simplified to “eat less sugar and acidic foods” which is absolutely not enough. Stay tuned to find out why!

Causes of tooth decay and de-mineralization

Modern dentistry usually puts the blame for tooth decay on bacteria in the mouth which feed on sugars in the diet and cause cavities. However, this is only part of the picture and a major component has been forgotten! That is that in order for bacteria to attack the teeth, a weakness needs to already be present. To understand this, we need to look at the structure of the teeth:

  1. The enamel layer on the outside of your tooth is what gives them a white colour and shiny, hard appearance. It is made up of minerals, primarily calcium-phosphate
  2. The dentin layer is less hard than enamel but also made up of calcified minerals. It usually has a yellow or grey colour. If the dentin is more exposed, you can experience tooth sensitivity and less white colour
  3. The pulp contains all the nerves and blood and is the most sensitive part of the tooth.

Strong enamel protects the dentin below from acid erosion and bacteria attacks. But enamel itself can also be worn down by acid, grinding the teeth or if minerals are leached from the teeth in a process called demineralization. Generally, minerals are constantly being lost and replaced via the blood supply to the tooth pulp and also the saliva. If the rates of mineralization and demineralization are equal, we have a stable tooth condition.

In tooth decay, demineralization is generally occurring at a faster rate. Once enamel is worn down, it cannot be reformed but minerals can be deposited to strengthen the dentin and enamel layer. To heal tooth decay naturally, we need to increase the rate of remineralization (more on that later).

Dietary causes of tooth decay and demineralisation

In the 1930s, a dentist called Weston A Price discovered another theory for tooth decay. He studied indigenous people and found that many tribes living on traditional diets did not experience tooth decay. This was despite not having access to modern dental care and in some cases not even brushing their teeth! Once they switched to a more modern diet including refined carbohydrates and processed foods, they started to develop cavities and other dental issues.

According to Price, there are three main dietary causes of tooth decay and demineralisation:

  1. Inadequate amounts or imbalanced ratio of minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorous)
  2. A lack of fat-soluble vitamins (primarily vitamins A and D)
  3. Imbalanced blood sugar levels

As teeth and bones are made of similar material and go through the same process of building up and breaking down, these factors also play a major role in bone mineral density. Two key minerals for maintaining healthy bones and teeth are calcium and phosphorous. Calcium is a key component of enamel which gives the teeth strength and protects from decay. Phosphorous helps the body absorb calcium and also helps to release energy from food. The ratio of these nutrients in the blood is also important.

Another of the dietary causes of tooth decay is lack of fat soluble vitamins. These are vitamins A, D, E and K which need fat to be present in order to absorb and store them in the body. They are also generally found in fat-containing foods such as dairy, meat or nuts and seeds. For healthy and strong teeth, vitamin A and D are particularly important. Vitamin A supports healthy saliva production which is important to maintain a neutral pH in the mouth and to kill harmful bacteria. It is also forms keratin in the tooth enamel layer and the gums. Vitamin D also helps with calcium absorption and plays a key role in remineralizing of teeth and bones.

Blood sugar stability is also important causes of tooth decay. This is because high blood sugar levels trigger leaching of minerals such as calcium from the bones to neutralize the blood. Constant snacking or bingeing on sweet foods or processed carbohydrates as well a diet inadequate in protein and fat can lead to chronically high blood sugar or instability with peaks of high and low blood sugar several times throughout the day. This could be experienced as erratic energy levels, energy crashes throughout the day, constant or sudden hunger and cravings for sweet foods.

Causes of tooth decay on a vegan diet

Lack of calcium

Based on the above three factors, we can easily see how a vegan diet can lead to tooth demineralization and tooth decay. Let’s consider a typical, healthy vegan diet made up of primarily whole foods: fruits, vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, legumes and nuts/seeds. Plant-based sources of calcium could include fortified dairy-alternatives such as soy or almond milk, green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu and sesame seeds (tahini). With some attention, it is fairly easy to get enough calcium from consuming these foods as long as you are consistent day to day. The problem I see is in three areas: incomplete digestion, detoxification and the high carb low fat trend.

Reduced digestion and absorption

Firstly when it comes to digestion, you are not what you eat but what you digest and assimilate. By this I mean just because the foods you eat contain enough calcium, it doesn’t mean that your body is able to extract and use all of that calcium. Plants contain certain compounds which bind to minerals in particular making them more difficult to absorb. The bio-availability of nutrients in certain plants is therefore lower than in animal products meaning that you need to eat more to meet your nutritional needs. Many plant-based dieters are not aware of this and can unknowingly consume below their nutritional needs for a long period of time. Because we have a certain amount of nutrient stores in our body, it can take months or even years for deficiencies and symptoms to arise, at which point it becomes difficult to question the diet which has “worked” for so long.

Detox and cleansing

Another common mistake with vegan and plant-based diets is the idea that we need to be detoxing or cleansing on a long-term basis. I am all for short-term cleanses to support the body e.g. on an annual or seasonal basis but I see many vegans attempting to live in a state of detox and this is a recipe for mineral deficiencies in particular. For anyone in the detox world, you may be familiar with the problems of tooth sensitivity, decay and even tooth loss than can occur with heavy detox. Rather than being just a part of the detox process, I see this as a major flag that the detox has been too prolonged and a period of rebuilding with mineral rich foods is essential to support the body.

Inadequate fat soluble vitamins

Finally, there is also the risk of deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins that can occur with high carb low fat vegan diets. By nature, vegan diets are higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to omnivorous diets and some plant-based doctors recommend as low as 5% fat in the diet for optimal health. Vegan diets particularly are low in saturated fats as all sources of meat and dairy are avoided and the only real source of saturated fat on a vegan diet would be from coconut. Without adequate fat in our diet, we cannot absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is also not possible to obtain vitamin D from plants (other than a small amount in mushrooms) and therefore supplementation is necessary. Vitamins A and K are present in plant-based diets but they are again found in a different and less usable form compared to retinol and vitamin K2 found in animal products.

Blood sugar issues

Due to the high proportion of carbohydrates in most plant-based diets, blood sugar regulation can be an issue. This is not the case for everyone but it certainly affects some. There is the argument that plant-based foods are high in water and fibre which slows down digestion and absorption of glucose into the blood stream. However, I definitely noticed my blood sugar was less stable on a plant-based diet. How can you tell if your blood sugar is unstable? Sugar cravings and blood sugar crashes where you feel tired, weak or have brain fog are a tell tale signs. Also, rapidly feeling intense hunger after meals or that hangry feeling where you need to eat right away otherwise you feel extremely irritable.

Summary of causes of tooth decay on a vegan diet

I hope you found this article on the causes of tooth decay on a vegan diet useful. If you are struggling with tooth decay on a vegan diet, do not worry. I healed my teeth after veganism and you can do the same if you are willing to make changes to your diet. I shared my story in a previous post as well as the nutritional strategy for healing tooth decay. Both posts are linked down below so make sure you check them out.

Over to you…

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3 thoughts on “Causes of tooth decay on a vegan diet

    • AmyCulli says:

      You’re welcome! I’ve fallen out of love with Instagram lately but I’m feeling inspired to write more here. I hope you are doing OK with the situation in Athens right now ❤

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