Cheese is delicious, and it may also fight cavities. Your Lakewood dentist, Advanced Family Dental, just came across a study touting cheese as the best cavity-fighting dairy product. But why cheese? Well, it comes down to pH.
Your oral pH
A healthy mouth should have a neutral or slightly alkaline pH (7 or above on the pH scale). An acidic oral pH can harm your enamel– if your oral pH drops below 5.5 on the pH scale, that mean enamel is actively being eroded by the acidic environment, which is no good!
There are a few factors that contribute to an acidic pH. Acidic drinks like sports drinks or soft drinks are major culprits in acidifying oral pH, as well as causing cavities with the high amounts of bacteria-feeding sugar! And bacteria, incidentally, are the other big cause of an acidic mouth– bacteria do eat sugar, but their metabolic byproduct– acid– is what causes damage to enamel.
Dry mouth is another major cause of an acidic oral pH. Lack of saliva can be caused by many things– hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, medications, or even stress.
Back to cheese
In the study, researchers assigned 68 study subjects to three different groups and examined their oral pH before and after eating a dairy product. One group was given milk, another sugar-free yogurt, and the third group was assigned to eat cheese.
Researchers found that whereas pH did not significantly change with either group that ate yogurt or milk, the oral pH dramatically increased in the test group that was assigned to eat cheese!
One important factor that scientists attribute the increased pH to is saliva. Saliva has neutralizing properties, as well as being very good at simply washing the mouth out (saliva also carries ions and minerals that help remineralize dental enamel).
The researchers believe that one of the reasons cheese made such a difference in oral pH is that it also stimulates salivation. Neither yogurt nor milk incite a significant increase in salivation, but dry and slightly “aged” cheese certainly does. This increased salivation can make a dramatic change in the oral pH.
In addition to stimulating salivary glands, researchers noted that there are compounds in cheese that also have anti-cavity properties.
Managing your oral pH
Whether or not you choose to make cheese your next snack of choice, being aware of your oral pH is an important factor in your overall dental health.
Steps you can take to ensure a neutral oral pH are:
- Drink lots of water. Water washes the mouth and dilutes any acid buildup.
- Avoid soft drinks and energy drinks. They aren’t just empty calories, they’re also actively breaking down your dental enamel because of their low pH!
- Chew sugar-free gum if you’re going for a long time in between meals. Gum stimulates salivary production, which washes the mouth and helps neutralize pH.