While eating dairy products remains an important part of maintaining your overall health, it plays an especially vital role when it comes to improving bone health.

However, despite the clear connection between dairy and improved bone density, very little research has examined what affect eating dairy may have on an individual’s oral health, until now.

In what must come as welcome news for fans of fromage everywhere, a new study published earlier this year in the May/June issue of General Dentistry – the Academy of General Dentistry’s peer reviewed journal – has found evidence that suggests regularly eating cheese and other dairy products may help reduce an individual’s risk of developing cavities.

Smile and Say Cheese

To conduct their study, researchers sampled the dental plaque pH levels in the mouths of 68 participants who ranged in age from 12 to 15 before and after they had consumed sugar-free yogurt, a glass of milk, or piece of cheese. Individuals who have a pH level lower than 5.5 have a higher risk of suffering the affects of tooth erosion, which is the process that eats away at tooth enamel and the primary cause cavities. Conversely, the higher above 5.5 an individual’s pH levels rise, the less chance he or she has of developing cavities and suffering from decay.

Participants were assigned to one of three groups randomly. The first group was asked to eat a piece of cheddar cheese, the second to drink a glass of milk, and the final group to eat a small container of sugar-free yogurt. Each group was asked to take three minutes to consume their food item, and then thoroughly rinse their mouths with water. After rinsing, researchers measured the pH levels of each participant’s mouth at intervals of 10, 20, and 30 minutes.

Researchers discovered that participants who drank the milk and ate the sugar-free yogurt showed no changes to the pH levels in their mouths. Participants who consumed the cheese, however, showed an increase in pH levels at each of the three time intervals. This suggests to researchers that cheese may possess anti-cavity properties that other dairy products do not.

The Cheddar Effect

Researchers suspect that what helps separate cheese from other types of dairy in its ability to raise ph levels in the mouth is the increased amount of saliva that occurs due to the chewing motion required to eat cheese.

Saliva acts as the body’s natural defense against harmful acids in the mouth that damage tooth enamel. The more saliva generated from eating, the less effect these types of substances in the mouth have on an individual’s teeth. Since drinking milk or eating yogurt requires no chewing, they don’t help to raise saliva levels in the mouth like cheese.

Of course, you need to chew most foods before swallowing, and not all of them offer protection against tooth decay. Researchers also suspect that various compounds found in cheese may stick to tooth enamel and further help to protect teeth from harmful acids.

So the next time you reach for a midafternoon snack, considering putting aside those carb heavy chips or sugar filled candy bar and select a slice of cheese instead. Your teeth with thank you.