Avoiding sugary sweets and regular brushing and flossing top the list of steps to take to avoid tooth decay. But other lifestyle habits, and even some foods and beverages, play a role in cavity prevention, too — and some of these cavity fighters are downright surprising. Keep in mind that research is limited, and opinions on some are mixed, but as a second line of defense — after brushing and flossing for healthy teeth, of course — they’re worthy of consideration.
CHEESECavity Fighter No. 1: Eating Cheese
Some researchers believe that casein, a protein found in cheese, may have a protective property that promotes healthy teeth and could help withcavity prevention. “Research has shown that calcium levels in the mouth increase after eating cheese,” says Shawn Frawley, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Teeth are partly made up of calcium, so increased saliva calcium levels helps re-mineralize teeth and prevent cavities from occurring.”
CHEWING GUMCavity Fighter No. 2: Chewing Gum
Chewing sugar-free gum has long been recommended to avoid cavities. And sugar-free gum made with xylitol, a natural sugar substitute, seems to be even more of a winner. “Xylitol is a very effective cavity fighter and prevents decay from occurring,” says Dr. Frawley. “Xylitol helps prevent cavities because bacteria that cause tooth decay cannot utilize it to grow and cannot metabolize it to produce acid. Xylitol is most effective in gum or mint form and should be consumed three to five times daily for a total of 5 grams per day. It is important that it is the first listed ingredient to ensure the amount is sufficient.”
Cavity Fighter No. 3: Candy
While we were all taught that candy is the enemy of healthy teeth, sugar-free candy, like sugar-free gum, holds cavity prevention potential. Dentists concur that sugar-free candy does not hurt your teeth, and if that candy is sweetened with xylitol, as a number of lollipops and hard candies now are, then it will actively help fight cavities and prevent tooth decay, too.
Cavity Fighter No. 4: Wine Wine, at least the red variety, is generally not considered great for teeth because of the stains it can leave behind. But one study suggests that many of the individual chemical components in both red and white wine can actively fight the bacteria that lead to tooth decay and cavities. Though the research is promising, dental experts are quick to point out that lab results don’t always equate to real-life situations. “The studies on these ‘cavity fighters’ do not necessarily hold water,” says Matthew Hyde, DDS, a dentist in private practice on Long Island, N.Y. “Just because you have isolated an individual chemical that may retard decay in a closed system, the mouth is far from a closed system, and it is important to consider the way these chemicals interact with the biofilm that surrounds each tooth.”
Cavity Fighter No. 5: Raisins Long perceived as a cause of cavities, it turns out raisins are similar to wine. Scientists have found that some of the chemicals present in raisins, including polyphenols and flavonoids, may actively fight oral bacteria that lead to cavities. Here again, dentists remain skeptical of translating these lab results into real life. “Raisins have long been recommended as a snack to avoid due to their stickiness and high sugar content,” says Frawley. “The question lies in whether the effective decay-preventing concentration of these phenolic compounds exists within raisins. Additionally, we must consider whether the cavity-fighting properties of the phenolics outweigh the cavity-causing properties of the sugar. At this point, I am not recommending eating raisins to prevent cavities to my patients.”
Cavity Fighter No. 6: Using a Straw When it comes to cavity prevention, sugary, acidic sodas obviously are not a wise choice. But a study at Temple University in Philadelphia discovered that you can minimize damage to healthy teeth by sipping that soda through a straw, especially if you don’t let the straw come in contact with the teeth. However, Dr. Hyde advises against using this as a green light to drink large amounts of soda due to the unwanted calories as well as the tooth decay risk. “If you drink carbonated or sugared beverages, a straw can help, but the best defense is not to drink these items to excess,” he says.
Cavity Fighter No. 7: Dental Sealants To prevent tooth decay, many dentists recommend dental sealants, a protective coating that’s applied to the surface of the back teeth. “Dental sealants are an excellent way to prevent cavities,” Frawley says. “One of the most susceptible surfaces of a tooth to decay is the biting surface, where grooves, pits and fissures exist. It is very difficult to thoroughly clean plaque and bacteria, especially when the grooves are deeper. By sealing this part of the tooth with a flowable resin material, it prevents bacteria from being able to access, grow, and cause tooth decay.”