Don't Just Say 'Cheese!' Eat Cheese!

Eating cheese for good oral health sounds almost as ridiculous as cheese being linked to the cause of nightmares. However, according to a study performed by the Academy of General Dentistry, consuming cheese could aid in the fight against cavities.

The report released in the May/June issue of General Dentistry, revealed some peculiar oral health benefits that you wouldn't normally associate with the much-loved dairy product.

The Science Behind the Study

It has long been known that cheese and other dairy foods, with their high amounts of calcium, are great for the formation of healthy, strong bones. But the latest study, which included 68 participants ranging in age from 12–15 years old, showed cheese to have a significant effect in lowering acidity in the mouth. High acidity levels, categorized as a pH of 5.5 or lower, are a major contributor to the erosion of tooth enamel and the subsequent development of cavities.

The study, conducted by researchers in India, involved dividing the participants into three groups which were given either cheddar cheese, milk or sugar-free yogurt. The participants were asked to consume the test food for three minutes before rinsing out their mouth with water. The pH levels of each subject's mouth was then measured at 10 minute intervals.

Analyzing the Results

The results of the study showed that the groups that consumed the milk and yogurt samples had no noticeable changes in pH level. However, the test group that consumed the cheese samples had a much higher pH during each of the 10 minute testings. A more alkaline pH, i.e. a pH above 5.5, lowers the risk of enamel erosion.

At first, the results were discarded, as the reduction in acidity was accredited to the production of saliva during the chewing process which is known to help in maintaining a baseline acidity level. Chewing the cheese sample would have caused the mouth to salivate which wouldn't have been the case for the milk and yogurt groups, who only swallowed their samples. However, if this were true, then merely chewing any food would produce the same results, which was found not to be the case.

The Verdict

Although all dairy products contain Calcium, Vitamin D and Phosphate, which are attributed to raising the alkalinity of the mouth, only cheese had noticeable and lasting results. This is due to the slightly sticky texture of cheese, allowing it to more easily 'bond' with tooth enamel when it is chewed.

Before you head to the store and replace your toothpaste with cheese, take note: Cheese is still high in phosphate which, in unnaturally high concentrations, can alter your body's metabolic functions (less the ability to regulate calcium, vitamin D and other minerals), as well put a strain on your kidneys and possibly result in bone loss. The other well-known drawback of cheese is of course the high fat and calorie value. A typical 1oz block of cheddar cheese could contain as much as 9.8g of fat and 116 calories.

Like any food, to reap the benefits of eating cheese, consume it in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet. And though you can smile in knowing that your cheese snacks are partially helping your teeth, be sure to maintain good dental hygiene as well!

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