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Mouse Food Fights Cavities

Tim Boyer's picture

According to the May/June 2013 issue of General Dentistry, researchers have found that not only are dairy products important for developing strong bones, but may also prevent cavities from forming in your teeth if you eat the favored food of cartoon mice—namely, cheese.

Cavities are an especial concern with adolescents who health experts find are increasingly damaging their teeth and general health with a rising thirst for sugary soft drinks.

One of the health problems of drinking sodas (even the diet ones) is that they have a low pH, meaning that they are highly acidic and corrosive and over time can actually eat away the protective enamel and dentin that covers a healthy tooth. Aside from abstaining from drinking sodas and other acidic drinks, health professionals recommend eating food or chewing gum along with the acidic drink to stimulate saliva production that will in turn neutralize the acid from the beverage while it is in the mouth. Doing so will thereby lessen the damaging effects of drinking soda.

As it turns out, however, some foods eaten can actually decrease the acidity of the mouth more so than others.

In the aforementioned study published in the journal General Dentistry, researchers investigated the effect of eating dairy products on mouth pH using 68 adolescents ages 12 to 15 whose mouths' acid levels were tested before and after eating a variety of dairy products. A pH of less than 5.5 is considered to be acidic enough to cause tooth decay from chemical erosion of the enamel. To be clear, the higher the pH number, the lower the acidity. The lower the pH number, the higher the acidity.

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“The higher the pH level is above 5.5, the lower the chance of developing cavities,” states Vipul Yadav, MDS, lead author of the study in a press release issued by the Academy of General Dentistry.

The study participants were divided into 3 groups and randomly assigned one of 3 dairy foods: milk, sugar-free yogurt or cheddar cheese. The participants were allowed to eat for 3 minutes, after which they rinsed their mouths with water. The researchers then measured the acid levels of each child’s mouth at the time points of 10, 20, and 30 minutes following the water rinse.

What the researchers found was that eating dairy products in the form of milk or sugar-free yogurt had no effect on changing he pH level in the participants’ mouths. However, eating a dairy product in the form of cheese significantly raised mouth pH (made it less acidic) during all 3 time points.

The authors of the study attribute the higher pH in the mouths of the adolescents who ate cheddar cheese as possibly being due to increased salivation from chewing, but also posit that compounds in the cheddar cheese may also stick to tooth enamel and provide protection from acid.

According to Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Seung-Hee Rhee, DDS, FAGD, “It looks like dairy does the mouth good. Not only are dairy products a healthy alternative to carb- or sugar-filled snacks, they also may be considered as a preventive measure against cavities.”

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Reference: “In vivo dental plaque pH after consumption of dairy products” General Dentistry 2013 May; 61(3):56-59; Ravishankar Lingesha Telgi, MDS, Vipul Yadav, MDS, Chaitra Ravishankar Telgi, MDS and Naveen Boppana, MDS.