Healthy Living

After Sugary Cereals, A Glass Of Milk May Prevent Cavities In Children: Why Food Sequencing Matters

Milk
By eating foods in a certain order — drinking a glass of milk after sugary cereal, for instance — can greatly reduce your risk of cavities. Alison Curtis, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dental visits are the bane of every child's and parent's existence. After all, for kids, the discovery of cavities could result in some painful oral operations. Parents, on the other hand, fear that if their kids have cavities, it may reflect badly on their parenting. The only way to surely prevent cavities is to have great oral hygiene and stay away from surgery foods, which isn't always realistic for parents with fussy kids who like the sweet stuff. But new research suggests that just a glass of milk after sugary cereals and snacks can change the mouth environment and possibly prevent cavities in children.

Cavities And Acidity

Cavities form because certain types of bacteria in a person's mouth consume sugar from human food and produces a small amount of acid, which can break down the protective enamel layer of the teeth. Constantly drinking acidic drinks, such as orange juice and soda, can do the same thing, making the deeper layers of the tooth vulnerable to bacterial infiltration and infection. But research out of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and published in the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that by using "food sequencing," or eating foods in a certain order, people can prevent the onset of cavities by changing the pH, or acidity, of their mouths.

Researchers took 20 healthy adult study participants and had them eat 20 grams of froot loops, which are loaded with carbohydrates, starch, and sugar. They were then asked to drink whole milk, 100 percent apple juice, or tap water. Researchers tested the acidity of the plaque between the molars of the participants before eating, at two and five minutes after eating, and then between two and 30 minutes after they drank milk, apple juice, or water.

After consuming the cereal, the pH of the plaque dropped, meaning that it became more acidic and was producing substances that can break down the enamel of teeth to promote cavities. The pH remained at 5.83 30 minutes after eating the cereal. This is below the pH of 7 and is therefore in the territory of acidic.

After drinking apple juice, the pH did not change much, landing at 5.84 30 minutes after drinking it, and water raised the pH to 6.02. But after drinking milk, the pH was raised to 6.48, a significant improvement toward bringing the acidity level up to near-neutral levels, which does little harm to teeth.

The Result

"Our study results show that only milk was able to reduce acidity of dental plaque resulting from consuming sugary Froot Loops," said Shilpa Naval, who is currently a fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and was at the Chicago College of Dentistry at the time of the experiments. "We believe that milk helped mitigate the damaging effect of fermentable carbohydrate and overcome the previously lowered plaque pH."

Milk has already been known to be beneficial for teeth because of its calcium content and ability to help in the remineralization of teeth. And because milk itself has a pH between 6.4 and 6.7, it is helpful in changing the pH of a person's mouth so that plaque, or biofilms of bacteria, have difficulty in forming.

 

Source: Naval S, Koerber A, Salzmann L, Punwani I, Johnson B, Wu C. The effects of beverages on plaque acidogenicity after a sugary challenge. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2013.

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