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Does a Vegan Diet Lead to Cavities?

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Sorry, vegans—carnivores are outscoring you on dental protection with every chew. Arginine, an amino acid found naturally in foods like meat and dairy, breaks down dental plaque, helping keep cavities and gum disease at bay, according to a new study in PLOS ONE. And this teeth-friendly amino acid is most commonly found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy—which means while it’s great for high-protein carnivores, vegans may be missing out on the dietary plaque prevention. 

The researchers found that L-arginine (one type of arginine) successfully stopped biofilms—microorganisms that are the culprit behind cavities, gingivitis, and gum disease—from growing in a Petri dish of salivary bacteria. And while further research is needed to understand why this amino acid has such powers, what the scientists do know is that just eating arginine-rich foods—which also include poultry, fish, and cheese—is enough to benefit your gums and teeth. This is great news for most of us, who garner plenty of the teeth-protecting nutrients from our high-protein diets! (Find out How to Whiten Teeth Naturally with Food.)

So what can vegans do to reap the same benefits? For starters, there are vegetables that boast some (but not as much) arginine as meat. The best source is beans, including regular black beans, soy beans, and even bean sprouts. Researchers also point to toothpastes and mouthwashes boosted with arginine, such as Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief Pro-Argin Toothpaste or Mouthwash ($8-$10; colgateprofessional.com). In fact, a Chinese study found that regular use of an arginine-enriched mouthwash can help prevent cavities. Now that’s something to smile about.

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