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Preventing Tooth Decay When You Can't Brush Your Teeth

cavities, tooth decay, dairy foods, milk prevents cavities

Dentists have long recognized the link between good oral health and sound nutrition. The foods we choose to eat can affect the health of our teeth and gums. In particular, sugars and starchy foods have a greater tendency to lead to plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums, producing acids that can attack the teeth for more than 20 minutes.

Brushing the teeth after each meal, flossing regularly and visiting a dentist twice a year are all top recommendations for keeping teeth free from decay. But what if you are unable to brush? Is there something you can do to decrease your risk of cavities?

In a small study in Chicago, researchers gave 20 volunteers a bowl of sugary cereal. The level of acids on the teeth was measured. Then the volunteers drank small glasses of either milk, water, or apple juice. Cow’s milk performed best in preventing bacteria in the mouth from producing acids that cause tooth decay.

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In addition, the consumption of milk may also help to strengthen teeth already weakened by the acids.

“Eating dairy products in combination with other sugary snacks or at the end of a meal may be an effective means of caries prevention,” said the researchers.

Dentists recommend the following tips to prevent tooth decay – aside from regular brushing and flossing.
Eat less sugar, drink less soda. Also, reduce the length of time your teeth are exposed to any carbohydrate source. Eating a large carb-loaded meal isn’t likely the issue; it’s the snacking and drinking over the course of the entire day, says Kimberly A. Harms DDS. For example, sipping sodas or even fruit juices between meals is “one continuous exposure and much more unhealthy for your teeth.”
Drink tap water. Fluoridated tap water is an inexpensive and highly effective way to fight cavities.
Use an antimicrobial mouth rinse that has been clinically proven to reduce plaque, such as Listerine or Crest Pro Health. Keep a small bottle in your desk, purse or briefcase so you can use it when away from home.
Chew sugarless gum. One study found that chewing gum that contains xylitol can temporarily retard the growth of tooth decay-causing bacteria. Orbit, Eclipse and Extra have been awarded the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance for helping to prevent cavities.
Snack on raisins. This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Raisins are sugary and sticky – two properties that dentists say have the biggest impact on tooth decay. However, a study by the University of Illinois-Chicago found that they also possess antimicrobial properties that can inhibit cavity-causing organisms within the mouth.

Naval, Shilpa, Koerber, Ann. The Effects Of Beverages On Plaque Acidogenicity After A Sugary Challenge. JADA. 2013.
Lim, Sungwoo, Sohn, Woosung, Burt, Brian A., Sandretto, Anita M., Koker, Justine L., Marshall, Teresa A., et al. Cariogenicity Of Soft Drinks, Milk And Fruit Juice In Low-Income African American Children. JADA. 2013.

Additional Resource:
American Dental Association: Diet and Tooth Decay