Brushing your teeth after meals, flossing everyday, getting regular dental checkups…everyone knows that these steps are the foundation of strong teeth and healthy gums. But did you know that eating chocolate may actually help improve your dental health as well? It may sound too good to be true, but a recent study from Japan’s Osaka University suggests that there are several chemical components found in chocolate that may help protect our teeth and gums, and prevent tooth decay. To better understand these findings, we first need to look at the causes of tooth decay and cavities.
When we eat foods with high sugar content, naturally occurring bacteria in our mouths converts those sugars into acids. Those acids then start to dissolve or break down the enamel covering of our teeth. Over time this loss of enamel weakens the tooth and if left untreated the tooth will eventually develop cracks and actual holes called dental caries, better known as cavities.
Knowing how cavities form, you may be asking yourself how chocolate could possibly help prevent cavities? The answer lies in some of the more than 300 chemical compounds found in the cocoa bean, the precursor to chocolate:
Polyphenols - These chemicals are commonly found in plants (including the cocoa bean) and have been shown to slow tooth decay by preventing bacteria in the mouth from changing sugar into the acid that weakens the tooth’s enamel covering.
Flavonoids - The antioxidant properties of flavonoids help to slow down the tooth decay process by reducing the amount of bacteria and other harmful pathogens in the mouth.
Theobromine - Theobromine encourages tooth remineralization by restoring minerals to the tooth’s structure, thereby helping to “repair” enamel loss and prevent cavities.
Tannins - Tannins found in cocoa are thought to help in the prevention of plaque formation, decreasing the cavity-causing properties of some high-sugar foods
Cocoa Butter - This chocolate building block coats the surface of the teeth and prevents plaque from sticking to the tooth
For millions of Chocoholics, the news that eating chocolate might be good for you is a reason to celebrate, but also important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal. Milk or white chocolate, which are the more common chocolate variations found in many popular candy bars and other treats, have likely been processed to the point that they have lost some or all of their health benefits. Chocolate from these sources usually contains far less actual cocoa and far more added sugar and dairy (a sugar source in and of itself) than dark chocolate. This means that in order to get the most dental health benefit from chocolate, it’s best to stick to darker and more pure forms of cocoa. Many people find the very bitter taste of raw cocoa to be unpleasant; if so, consider adding it to your diet in the following ways:
- Crush raw cocoa nips and add to your favorite fruit smoothie.
- Add organic unsweetened cocoa powder to your chili or beef stew.
- Sprinkle your morning coffee with a teaspoon of cocoa powder.
- Add raw cocoa powder, cayenne, and a pinch of sugar to hot milk for a spicy and delicious hot drink.
If the idea of cooking with cocoa powder doesn’t appeal to you, or if your sweet-tooth insists on eating a chocolate bar or candy, the recommendation is to stick to those brands that contain at 70% or more cocoa to reap the fullest benefits. And remember when it comes to strong teeth and a healthy mouth, there’s no substitution for brushing and flossing!
For more information on ways to keep your smile happy, please contact Dr. Martin at Stone Creek Dental Care today at 509-525-5902.