Top 5 Reasons Dairy is Important to Oral Care

By: Sara Elliott

Milk does more than a body good!
Milk does more than a body good!
Photodisc/Thinkstock

You probably already know about the bone-building advantages of calcium-rich dairy products, but dairy offers more benefits than just calcium. From milk to probiotic yogurt, dairy is one food that's good for you in a number of ways -- and a few of those advantages may start before you ever even swallow. Your teeth may be a testament to the power of calcium to fortify bone, but that doesn't tell the whole story when it comes to the advantages of dairy in oral care. Let's explore some interesting and unexpected ways that dairy helps protect your teeth, guard your gums and shelter your body from bacterial attack.

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5: Dairy Helps Fight Tooth Decay

Depending on the way it's prepared and what it's served with, dairy can be a convenient and even portable snack that's versatile as well as tasty. It can be an effective chemical weapon, too. Think of your mouth as a battleground. Bad bacteria fight to survive, creating acidic conditions as part of their digestive process after dining on the residual sugars and proteins in your mouth. These acids soften and erode tooth enamel and promote tooth decay. Current research suggests that the phosphates in dairy products, particularly in hard cheeses, neutralize the acid somewhat, so even with destructive bacteria present, dairy can help ameliorate some of the consequences of, say, eating that piece of hard candy after lunch. The vitamin D in dairy also helps to discourage the growth of mouth bacteria. Of course, losing the candy in favor of a nice glass of low-fat milk is a much better option, but that's just a suggestion.

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4: Dairy Is Chock Full of Vitamins and Minerals

We'll take a look at calcium in a minute, but besides the big C, dairy is a nutrient-rich food that contains a banquet of other vitamins and minerals that contribute to oral as well as whole-body health. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are all similarly endowed or fortified with vitamins and minerals. Together, these components of dairy, especially low-fat and no-sugar added products, make dairy a good nutritional choice that will protect your smile and give your body important raw materials for proper development and maintenance:

  • Magnesium - Aids muscle function
  • Niacin - Helps the body metabolize fatty acids and sugars
  • Phosphorus - Helps repair tooth tissues
  • Potassium - Helps maintain normal blood pressure
  • Protein - Builds and repairs muscle tissue
  • Riboflavin - Helps prevent inflammation of the tongue and mucous membranes and block cheilosis (fissures and scaling at the corners of the mouth). Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2.
  • Vitamin A - Regulates cell growth and helps maintain the immune system
  • Vitamin B12 - Rebuilds red blood cells and helps prevent tongue inflammation
  • Vitamin D - Aids in the absorption of calcium and helps strengthen tooth enamel

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3: Some Dairy Products Contain Plaque Fighting Bacteria

Fight plaque buildup with a serving a yougurt every day.
Fight plaque buildup with a serving a yougurt every day.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Probiotics are the good bacteria colonies in yogurt products with active yogurt cultures. One side benefit to eating this type of yogurt is that some components of these cultures may help kill the bad bacteria inside your mouth, which can result in fewer problems with tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. There are potentially more than 600 types of bacteria inside your mouth, although some are beneficial because they kill or discourage even worse types of bacteria that can produce plaque (the gloppy white stuff that hardens into tartar). Some current research suggests that the probiotics in active culture yogurt products and probiotic gums may deliver good bacteria reinforcements to the front lines -- your teeth, tongue and gums -- and do it under the guise of eating a tasty (sugarless) snack.

We should note here that not all yogurt products contain active bacteria cultures, and of those, not all have demonstrated oral health advantages (some are full of sugar that can wreak havoc on your teeth). The research on this topic is ongoing, so stay tuned.

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2: Dairy Can Contribute to Better Gum Health

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is usually the result of bacterial growth that leads to tartar, the hard deposits that feel like gritty bits of cement around the teeth and gums. It takes a while for soft plaque to harden into tartar, but as it does, it irritates the gums, causing them to pull away from the teeth. This is the beginning of gum disease. Left untreated, it can lead to infection, bone loss and eventually tooth loss. Dairy products foster gum health by helping to keep teeth strong and create an environment inside the mouth that slows the growth of plaque and tartar. Dairy products also offer a practical dietary alternative to sugary sweets that exacerbate tooth and gum problems. From flavored milk to artificially sweetened yogurt, dairy products offer a wide range of fortified options that protect your mouth while they nourish your body.

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1: Dairy Contains Bone-building Calcium

We mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: calcium is a powerhouse when it comes to your oral health. Your teeth and jaws see a lot of action over a lifetime, and keeping them strong requires structural fortification, and that's what calcium does. As your body needs calcium, it takes it from the most likely source, your bones. Consuming calcium-rich foods helps replace the loss to keep bone tissue dense and tough. Dairy delivers calcium in an easy-to-use form, too. Dairy products are often fortified with vitamin D, which helps in the absorption of calcium for a one-two punch that's a fast and effective way to keep your teeth and bones stronger. An 8-ounce glass of milk, for instance, contains 30 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium. That glass of milk can be low-fat or non-fat -- the calcium content will be the same either way.

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Lots More Information

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