Milk and dental caries – how are they related?

We all know that milk and other dairy products are good for your overall health because of the calcium it delivers, especially during childhood and adolescents when your bones are rapidly growing.  What many may not know is that besides the calcium it provides for overall bone growth it actually has some oral health benefits. Research has shown a link between nutrition and oral care and it is important to know what this means as dental caries are the most common chronic childhood disease.  .

Research dated back to 1950 has shown an association between milk consumption and caries in both animals and humans.  Milk consumption has actually been shown to reduce caries even in dry mouths or mouths with reduced saliva flow that would generally favor caries formation.

Milk and dairy products contain numerous bioactive proteins, which are able to prevent demineralization of the teeth.  The alkaline substances present in milk such as calcium, inorganic phosphate, and casein also help to enhance remineralization and decrease demineralization.  Plaque bacterial attachment and biofilm formation in the mouth are also inhibited by milk proteins, which lead to less overall acid-producing bacteria in the mouth.  Lastly, it also increases salivary flow, which neutralizes plaque acidic attacks to the teeth.     

What about cheese?

Attention has also been focused on the effects of cheese.  Not only has it been shown to prevent caries but it also increases saliva and plaque concentrations of calcium.  The optimal pH of the mouth is approximately 7.0 because this is when the remineralization process is most efficient.  Some cheeses have been shown to help maintain saliva optimal pH such as Gouda, Blue, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella and Swiss.  

What else can milk do for your oral health?

Not only is milk great for protecting your teeth and keeping them free of caries, the nutrients in milk are also very important for the soft tissues of the oral cavity.  Due to the rapid cell turnover of the oral mucosa it is often one of the first places you are able to tell if someone has a nutritional deficiency.  Proteins, vitamin A, zinc and vitamin B complex are a few of the nutrients in milk that help maintain a healthy tongue, gum and lips.  

Milk can be used as a mean of delivering other substances that can prevent caries.  In some countries around the world, fluoride salts have been added to their milk to help with oral health in places where fluorinated water is not accessible.  According to the World Health Organization, fluoridation is the most far reaching public health policy for caries prevention in the general population.  

Research has shown that milk could also be used to deliver antibodies that offer protection against specific bacteria that can cause caries in the mouth. There has been research on immunizing cows so that their milk will already have the antibodies against cavity-causing bacteria.  

What about chocolate milk you ask?

Chocolate milk contains added sugars and chocolate flavoring. To put it into perspective, it contains about two teaspoons less sugar than an 8-oz serving of soft drink and often less than many juices.     So your child likes chocolate milk? Well, it’s not a bad beverage when consumed in moderation.  It can be a healthy alternative to other beverages, such as soft drinks and many juices.  Chocolate milk, although it does have added sugar and chocolate flavoring, is a drink kids love and therefore will be drinking less juice which is more harmful to teeth due to the high acidity.  It has been shown that those who drink flavored or plain milk have higher intakes of Vitamin A, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium,  which are all great nutrients for your child’s overall health!

Got Milk?!


MH900402163Girl drinking a glass of chocolate milk through a straw

Copyright 2013 The Children’s Oral Care Centre