We are all aware of the infamous, “Got Milk?” campaign, but have you ever really wondered why the big push to drink milk? Most of us grew up having milk with meals, but for some reason many people stop drinking milk as adults and this is just wrong, especially from a dental health standpoint! Calcium is a key component for building strong bones, as you probably know, and milk products are loaded with it. In fact, just 1 cup of milk provides almost 300 milligrams of calcium. But that’s not all; dairy products keep your teeth as healthy as your bones throughout your life. So, is milk good for your teeth? The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why.
Your teeth and bones store 99 percent of your body’s calcium, according to the National Institutes of Health. Because a baby’s teeth begin forming long before birth, expecting mothers should consume their “Recommended Dietary Allowance” of it: between 1000 and 1300 mg per day. This ensures the unborn baby receives enough calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients necessary for the proper development of their teeth and bones. From infancy through the teen years, however, milk and dairy products continue to be important for growth and development. And as you age, calcium is a vital mineral in preventing osteoporosis.
“Milk is one of the main sources of sugars in the diet,” says Ellie Phillips, DDS, a founding member of the nonprofit American Academy for Oral Systemic Health and author of Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye. Drinking milk can actually promote healthy teeth and bones. “The sugar in milk is lactose, which is the least damaging to teeth,” explains Dr. Phillips, and the calcium found in the beverage helps kids develop strong baby and adult teeth. In addition, Phillips says, studies have shown that when cavity-causing foods are eaten along with milk (cookies, anyone?), the milk can actually help protect teeth from damage. If you don’t drink milk, ask Dr. Still or our Claire and Ann, our hygienists, about toothpastes that can remineralize your teeth.
To prevent cavities and maintain good oral health, your diet — what you eat and how often you eat — are important factors. Changes in your mouth start the minute you eat certain foods. Bacteria in the mouth convert sugars and carbohydrates from the foods you eat to acids, and it’s the acids that begin to attack the enamel on teeth, starting the decay process. The more often you eat and snack, the more frequently you are exposing your teeth to the cycle of decay.
The best food choices for the health of your teeth include cheeses, chicken or other meats, nuts, and milk. These foods are thought to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to remineralize teeth (a natural process by which minerals are redeposited in tooth enamel after being removed by acids).
Other food choices include firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) and vegetables. These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain, and stimulate the flow of saliva (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering acid). Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and lemons, should be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acid from them.
Other good beverage choices for dental health besides milk include water (especially fluoridated water) and unsweetened tea. Dr. Still recommends limiting your consumption of sugar-containing drinks, including soft drinks, lemonade, and coffee or tea with added sugar. Also, avoid day-long sipping of sugar-containing drinks — day-long sipping exposes your teeth to constant sugar and, in turn, constant decay-causing acids.
Sources: WebMD, Colgate, National Institute of Health