With the ever-rising numbers of ethically conscious people, veganism is on the rise. There is a plethora of information online about animal agriculture and its damaging effects on the environment, our health and cruelty towards animals. People from all walks of life are uniting in this unprecedented movement in the history of humankind to safeguard the innocent and to protect our planet. But what about medicine and dentistry? People are becoming more aware of the plight of animals in medical research. But what can we do?
1# Animals in dentistry
With dentistry being a branch of medicine, the same principles apply. Any medicine you’ve ever taken or received has first been tested on animals. Any doctor who has ever practiced medicine has practiced, first, on innocent, non-consenting animals. Not to mention gelatine capsules and lactose carriers in pills, and “catgut” surgical sutures which are made of sheep, goat or cow intestine. We use cow bone to mimic our bone-in bone grafts. We use pigskin to mimic our own skin. Even major brands of toothpaste continue to test on animals.
If the aim of veganism is to regard all animals as having an equal right to life, how do we justify bettering our lives with medicine at the cost of the lives of other animals?
I have a bit of a reputation as ‘the vegan dentist.’ I have made modifications in my practice to be as cruelty-free and environmentally-conscious as possible. As an implant dentist, I offer my patients the choice between conventional animal bone grafting techniques and methods that utilise your own tissue in combination with consenting human donor bone. I avoid porcine and bovine products where possible and even advocate whole food, plant-based, vegan diet to my patients for optimum health. In all my implant, bone grafting and wisdom teeth removal surgeries, I use synthetic sutures, which are just as convenient as “catgut”. We closely work with a compounding pharmacist who compounds all our medications for surgeries. You can get plant-based capsules for Panadol, Ibuprofen, and most antibiotics this way.
However, dentistry cannot ever be called vegan. I receive numerous calls from ethically conscious patients who require dental treatment but don’t wish to participate in the unethical practices towards animals. Sadly, in this day and age, medicine still relies on the use of animals. The best thing we can do is to stay healthy in order to minimise the need for treatments, spread the message, support professionals who care and campaign for a better world, and support organisations like MAWA who are working ceaselessly to replace animal experiments with more accurate and relevant models.
In an affluent country like Australia, we are faced with an epidemic of preventable dietary-related diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and dental caries.
Inflammation is one of the underlying factors in periodontal disease. Saturated fat is known for being associated with inflammation. Studies have found that “high dietary saturated fat intake was significantly associated with a greater number of periodontal disease events”. The same diet of animal fat and protein, that leads to high cholesterol may also contribute to periodontitis, as bad cholesterol levels may lead to both.
Inflammatory cytokines, mediate tissue destruction in periodontal disease. A plant-based diet seems to reduce these cytokines and may improve the balance between damaging free radicals and protective antioxidants which is our defence system. We are facing a health crisis in general with dentistry as no exception. With Medicare barely coping, we need to move with the evidence.
Countries which consume the greatest amounts of dairy have the highest incidence of hip fractures. Consumption of dairy is associated with an increase in IGF1 factor which is linked with prostate and breast cancers. Besides, contrary to the popular belief, teeth enamel and dentin are not as dynamic as bone tissue and don’t require huge amounts of dietary calcium to sustain healthy teeth. Yet, we are still telling patients that three serves of dairy a day are necessary for optimal dental health.
Instead of packing calcium with saturated fats, growth factors and estrogens, why don’t we tell patients to get it from healthy sources like green leafy vegetables? Bok choy and Kale are packed with calcium and a plethora of other nutrients which are beneficial for our overall health. Fruits and veggies reduce oral and pharyngeal cancer risk. Greens, tomatoes, carrots and citrus are all implicated in this benefit.
So even though I do extensive surgical rehabilitations, I take time to counsel patients on their dental and overall health. What is good for us is good for the animals!
Scientists are urging us to do something, or else we are going to pay a price for our carelessness. With natural disasters destroying habitat, with plastics in our waterways and the emissions from animal agriculture, we are rendering our planet uninhabitable faster than in any sci-fi blockbuster.
Although dentistry plays a relatively insignificant role in the overall scheme of things, the use of amalgam retention suction, minimising waste, and using sterilisable instruments instead of disposable ones are small steps that matter. Disposables are convenient but at what cost to the future of our planet and generations to come?
Dental practices, which are actively mindful of this approach and are evolving with the evidence, are proud of this, and will most likely want to mention it on their website. So, in search of a more ethical dental practice, ask questions, do research but be mindful of the limitations that we have in dentistry.
Vegan dentistry is still a dream but professionals are waking up to the animal plight, health and the environmental messages too. The message is loud and clear – we are not the only ones on this planet and we all have an obligation to practice responsibly. It is my dream that one day, more and more dental practices will adopt a vegan-friendly approach.
More about Dr Helen:
Dr Helen Voronina is an implant dentist and owner of Melbourne based practice, Dr Helen’s Dental & Implant Studio. With a strong commitment to sustainability and following a plant-based lifestyle, Dr Helen implements her core values into her practice wherever possible. To find out more about Helen, visit her website at www.drhelen.com.au and follow her on Instagram at @drhelensdental.