Can you improve oral health simply by enjoying a refreshing beverage? It seems so.
In fact, you can choose from three delicious drinks — ones you probably thought were bad for the teeth. And if you thought milk was going to be number on this list, you’d be mistaken!
No huge surprise here, right? Both green tea and black tea have been shown to be good for your teeth and gums. First, the catechins in green tea are anti-cariogenic (i.e. they reduce the incidence of dental caries). Green tea destroys Streptococcus mutans and other bacteria which cause dental cavities.
Tea is also a source of fluoride, which is one of the most studied substances for reducing caries. But the benefits of tea are not dependent on fluoride. One study showed that even when fluoride is removed, green tea extract increases the strength of tooth enamel.
What about black tea? The polyphenols in black tea (mostly theaflavins) prevent the growth of bacteria that causes bad breath. The higher the concentration of polyphenols, the stronger the reduction in growth. Furthermore, when hamsters were fed a diet high in sugar, their caries incidence increased significantly. Feeding them black tea along with the sugar reduced cavities markedly.
Most people might associate coffee with bad teeth, but in reality, coffee is good for oral health. Similarly to green tea, roasted coffee beans have antibacterial activity. Coffee can also prevent bacteria from attaching onto the surface of teeth, making them less harmful.
It’s not entirely clear how coffee does what it does, but according to the scientists who performed the study, the most active compounds in coffee in terms of dental health are trigonelline, caffeine and chlorogenic acid. It’s probable that they work together synergistically to reduce caries more than any compound would by itself.
Surely cocoa can’t be good for teeth? Well, yes it can. Hamster and rat studies show that when cocoa powder or chocolate — yes, chocolate — was added to their diet, they had less cavities. Of course, high levels of sugar in hot chocolate or milk chocolate are much less effective than dark chocolate or cocoa powder with hot water or milk.
A study on children concluded that a mouth rinse made from cocoa bean husks reduced the amount plaque. The reason is that cocoa inhibits a specific enzyme that is involved with plaque formation.
Green tea, black tea, coffee and cocoa all have oral health benefits. Tea has the most studies behind it and is the best choice out of the three, but coffee and cocoa seem to be beneficial too. A combination of all three may be the optimal choice.
Keep in mind, however, that all three have the potential to color teeth when consumed in large amounts. You can limit the amount of discoloration by rinsing your mouth with water afterward, chewing gum, and choosing white tea or green tea instead of black tea, which is the most effective dye out of the three.