Dairy and Dental Health: Something to Smile About
Finally, spring flowers are blooming! This is definitely something to smile about. But how healthy is your smile? While some of us may think that regularly brushing and flossing our teeth is all it takes for a healthy smile, science shows that diet and overall nutrition also play a role in oral health, including risk of tooth decay (dental caries).
Protecting against tooth decay is important. This oral health disease affects one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 years and half of those aged 12 to 15 years. Nearly one-third of all adults in the U.S. have untreated tooth decay. Untreated tooth decay causes painful infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, and learning. The good news is that oral health problems such as tooth decay are preventable.
At a recent visit to my dentist I was pleasantly surprised that she discussed not only foods and beverages that can sabotage a healthy smile, but also the importance of consuming an overall healthy diet of nutrient-rich foods, such as defined by USDA’s “MyPlate,” for oral health. She also mentioned some recent research suggesting that specific foods such as dairy foods may help protect against tooth decay.
Reducing the risk of tooth decay has traditionally focused on limiting intake of beverages such as carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks that contain enamel-reducing acid in addition to sugar, as well as sugary foods such as caramels, mints, and other hard or sticky candy and dried fruits that can stick to tooth surfaces triggering cavity-causing decay.
The Dairy Advantage. Consuming cheese may be a good strategy to help protect teeth against tooth decay, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal, General Dentistry. When researchers assessed the dental plaque pH (an indicator of risk of cavities) in 68 children, aged 12 to 15 years, before and after eating different dairy foods, they found that cheese may help protect teeth from tooth decay and that milk and sugar-free yogurt do not contribute to tooth decay.
The researchers suggest that this benefit of cheese may be explained by increased production of saliva stimulated by chewing cheese. Saliva helps buffer against high levels of acidity and remove any residue in the mouth that may contribute to tooth decay. Also, components in cheese such as protein, calcium, and phosphorus may protect teeth.
A recent study at the University of Illinois showed that consuming milk after intake of sugary foods may help reduce tooth decay. Milk was more effective than fruit juice or water in neutralizing acid in the mouth resulting from sugary foods. The researchers suggest that the order of foods consumed may affect risk of tooth decay.
These recent findings support earlier investigations demonstrating dairy products’ beneficial role in dental health. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry acknowledges cheese as a cavity fighter and recommends cheese, chocolate milk, yogurt, and vegetables as healthy snacks for children.
For more information, visit the American Dental Association (ADA)’s MouthHealthy website. ADA’s recommended nutrition tips to reduce risk of tooth decay are:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes to remove sugars and food particles from your teeth.
- Limit between-meal snacking.
- Keep added sugar in your diet to a minimum by making wise food and beverage choices.
- Include dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and water (particularly fluoridated water) in your diet.
If you live in Michigan and you are interested in receiving a copy of our Milk Matters coloring book focused on dental health, please call 1-800-241-MILK(6455) or contact us to place your order today!