Is Your Raw Vegan Diet Eroding Your Teeth? Study Results : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Jul 9 | BY |
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It’s healthy for your body, but what about your teeth?

You know all the health benefits of a raw food diet, but did you know that it could potentially put your teeth at risk?

That’s according to a study that showed that a raw food diet increases risk of dental erosion compared to a conventional diet. How does raw food affect your teeth, and what can you do to protect them?

What the Study Showed
Researchers from Germany studied 130 subjects whose diet consisted of more than 95 percent raw food. The median duration of the diet was 39 months, with a minimum of 17 months, and a maximum of 418 months. These participants answered questionnaires recording their food intake during a 7-day period before starting the study.

Researchers then randomly selected 76 sex- and age-matched participants for use as a control group. Using study models, they then registered dental erosions in both groups, and found that compared to the control group, subjects living on a raw food diet had significantly more dental erosions. For instance, 60.5 percent of the raw food eaters had at least one tooth with a severe erosion, versus 31.6 percent of the control group.

Why Did This Happen?
Researchers aren’t sure why the difference. They noted that within the raw food group, they could find no significant correlation between nutrition or oral health data and the prevalence of erosions. Nevertheless, the results showed that raw food eaters were more at risk.

One thing to note is the high amounts of fruit eaten by the raw foodists. The raw food diet records showed the median daily frequency of ingesting citrus fruit to be 4.8, and the median intake of fruit was 62 percent of the total, corresponding to an average consumption of 9.5 kg of fruit per week. (The maximum amount consumed for one person was 23.7 kg, which is a lot of fruit!)

It’s no secret that though fruits have a lot of health benefits, they can also be high in sugar and acidity -— a double whammy for teeth. In fact, the British Dental Association (BDA) has advised that the safest approach when eating apples is to eat them only at mealtimes, and then rinse out the mouth to minimize tooth damage. Add to that the fact that the sugar content of apples (and likely other fruits) has increased by up to 50 percent over the last couple decades, as farmers genetically breed varieties to have a sweeter taste.

New research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the typical modern apple now has a sugar content of up to 15 percent, which means it contains the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar. A BDA spokesperson noted that erosion is becoming a real problem, and that once enamel is worn away, it doesn’t regenerate. “Research shows that dental erosion in adults due to diet is usually a result of excessive consumption of fruits and fruit juices.”

Other Potential Causes
The aforementioned research is only one study with a relatively small amount of participants. Still, it brings up an important concern. Can a raw food diet be stressful for your teeth? It’s safe to say that if it contains a lot of fruit, it can be. Beyond that, we need more research to discover the answers.

Some raw foodists who have experienced teeth problems after switching to raw have some additional theories. Eating more often may be part of the issue. Whereas you may have been used to eating three meals a day before, once switching to a raw diet, you may find yourself grazing. Even if you’re snacking on healthy foods, frequent eating can disrupt the natural remineralization of your tooth enamel. Typically after you eat, your saliva goes to work rebuilding enamel. If it’s constantly breaking down more food, while your teeth are frequently subjected to more sugars and acids, the enamel is more likely to suffer.

Another possibility is the increased intake of nuts, dried fruit, and dehydrated foods. Sticky, hard-to-scrape-off foods can become lodged between teeth where they are hard to remove. The longer food debris stays stuck on or between teeth, the easier for bacteria to attack.

How to Protect Your Teeth While Enjoying a Raw Food Diet (and Fruits!)
The answer, fortunately, is not to stop eating fruits or nuts or other great raw foods. The answer is to consider changing how you take care of your teeth in between meals and snacks.

One thing to be careful of—brushing right after eating an acidic food is actually worse for your teeth than doing nothing at all. Acid breaks down enamel, leaving your teeth vulnerable. Enamel softened by an acid attack is scrubbed away by the toothbrush.

Here are some other tips for careful dental care while eating a raw food diet. Please write in if you know of more!

  • Wait at least 30 minutes (an hour, preferably) after eating something acidic before brushing. Rinse your mouth with water instead.
  • To really reduce the acid in your mouth after an acidic meal or snack, rinse with a mixture of water and baking soda.
  • Drink acidic drinks (like citrus fruit drinks) through a straw and avoid swishing around the mouth. Better yet, drink them with a meal.
  • Realize that even fruit teas can damage tooth enamel. Brands that have fruits like lemon, raspberry, and blackcurrant put your teeth at risk. Researchers from the University Dental Hospital of Manchester placed extracted teeth in three different liquids: blackcurrant, ginseng and vanilla herbal tea, traditional tea, and water. After 14 days—the equivalent of drinking three cups a day for 18 years—the herbal tea had dissolved a layer of enamel from the tooth several thousandths of a millimeter thick.
  • Regular black tea, however, has shown to help reduce tooth erosion at just one cup a day. But avoid adding milk, lemon, or sugar.
  • Eat fruits with meals. For snacks, choose non-acidic foods rather than acidic berries, grapes, apples, and citrus fruits. Try veggies instead. (Watermelon, papaya, honeydew melon, figs, cantaloupe, and bananas are also less acidic than other fruits, and may work as a nice snack option.) If you go for nuts, rinse with water and floss afterwards.
  • Go easy on lemon juice and vinegar.
  • Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol to increase saliva flow and reduce acids in your mouth between meals.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and avoid brushing too aggressively.

Kev’s Thoughts:

I think what I want to highlight most here is that these raw fooders seemed to have eaten a lot of fruit — which is when my teeth issues were at their worst. But I also want to note that I’ve met all kinds of raw food eaters who have teeth issues — so I don’t want to unfairly single out the fruit eaters. Though it does seem there is a connection between increased fruit consumption in raw fooders and worsening teeth.

What’s interesting to note, and a point of curiosity for me, is that I wonder if I would have had the same teeth issues if I had been doing to dental routine that I am now — which is slightly more involved.

I was rinsing out after meals and I was also flossing then, but I wasn’t doing a salt and baking soda wash.

I know this gives all our fruitarian readers (are you guys still out there?) some fuel to flame me — since I’m sure I’ll be accused of giving up and not trying everything — a common fruitarian tactic. But my gut on this one, is that I would have had the same issues with my teeth regardless of the salt and soda wash.

This study helps me justify my hunch. I’m sure very few of these individuals have stellar mouth care protocols and I could easily argue that even before, when my teeth hurt, that my teeth cleaning routine was good enough — and maybe even better than most people involved in this study.

What’s pretty shocking is that the raw fooders had double the instance of severe erosion. This is particularly interesting since the control group was almost undoubtedly eating a standard, average German diet — that includes some processed white flour and sugar. (Yes, an assumption, but it’s the norm, right? I feel I can appropriately make this one.)

It would seem to me based on this data and a mild — but not so far fetched — assumption that the raw food diet may be worse for your teeth than a standard German diet. I would love to see how it compared with a standard American diet. It would be a trip if the research showed this group of raw fooders had worse teeth than those who ate Wonder Bread and drank soda all day long.

Anyway, based on experience, this study just further explains that theory doesn’t always make for the best practice in the real world. But I also want to point out, this is not a reason whatsoever to not try a raw food diet or high raw diet for an extended period of time.

It’s a lame excuse to say that you wouldn’t try the raw food diet because you’re afraid your teeth will fall out. This study and article is more of a warning to those who are on the diet or want to start it. This is just one of the pitfalls you could experience — some will and some won’t.

And also, please keep in mind there are 100’s of benefits to eating raw plants as the bulk of your diet.

Have you suffered from dental erosion after starting a raw food diet? Please share your story, and any tips you may have.

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Photo courtesy Moosicom via Flickr.com.

Sources
Tim Utton, “Why an Apple a Day Won’t Keep the Dentist Away,” Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-99733/Why-apple-day-wont-dentist-away.html.

“Dental Drama: Tooth Problems on the Raw Diet (Part 1),” Raw Food SOS, January 24, 2010, http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/01/24/dental-drama-tooth-problems-on-the-raw-diet-part-1/.

Ani, “Black Tea Can Stop Tooth Decay,” Times of India, December 8, 2008, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2008-12-08/health/27894152_1_black-tea-tooth-erosion-enamel.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

1 COMMENT ON THIS POST

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  1. Esther says:

    I was on a raw vegan diet for 5 months. I definitely would have stayed on it longer if I hadn’t have been traveling to india. My fears got the best of me, and before I made it to India, I started introducing small amounts of cooked food into my life, so I could slowly adjust back to regular foods. The bulk of my diet was fruits and salads, then cooked foods, started to come in. But since I was on the road for a few weeks before india it was easiest for me to just grab some fruit and call it a meal! I was eating 10 plus fruits a day… But generally didn’t include a lot of citrus. I definitely didn’t have oranges or grapefruit everyday if at all.

    When I finally got to India. I still basically had fruit as my main calorie source, and small amounts of cooked foods, and salads. These cooked foods though would’ve included ghee, milk, oils… So not 100percent vegan either.
    But this is when my teeth started absolutely falling apart. My gums started receding I was in so much pain! And I started also falling very sick.

    I don’t regret going raw vegan. But because of what a terrible time I went through, I’d be seriously reluctant to ever do raw again, unless I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about the health of my teeth or my body… Esp in the case if I were to ever transition back to cooked foods again… For any reason.

    Now I am happily vegan, and my teeth are mostly better, my gums seemed to have stopped receding, and only a few sensitivities when I floss… So I am seeking to further improve the way I can take care of the situation naturally… But it’s a process, and natural health care does have a lot to d with trial and error… Which sometimes is hard to always have the energy or the nerves to do.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your insights.
    If you know a good solution to regrow gums, I’d be very interested.

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