Drinking coffee on a daily basis has become habitual for nearly two-thirds of Americans who will most likely not kick the habit anytime soon. The popular caffeinated beverage does more than just deliver a morning jolt; it can also protect you from gum disease. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology, higher coffee consumption may have protective effects against periodontal health by reducing the number of teeth with periodontal bone loss.

In the U.S., coffee is the primary source from which most Americans get their antioxidants. Both caffeinated and decaf versions of the beverage are a major dietary source of antioxidants, and other anti-inflammatory factors. The potential health benefits of these antioxidants is contingent on how the body absorbs and utilizes them.

As coffee consumption is on the rise, with over half of Americans drinking it every day, a team of researchers at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine sought to explore what role antioxidants in coffee play in dental health, specifically gum disease. Nathan Ng, lead author and 2014 DMD graduate, and his colleagues, looked at data collected from 1,152 men in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Dental Longitudinal Study (DLS) during triennial dental visits between 1968 and 1998. The majority of participants were non-Hispanic white males (98 percent) between the ages of 26 to 84 at the start. These participants are not VA patients, but rather, they receive their medical and dental care in the private sector.

“This is the first long-term study of its kind that has investigated the association between coffee consumption and periodontal disease in humans,” said Ng, in the press release.

To assess periodontal status, researchers looked at probing depth, bleeding on probing, and radiographic alveolar bone loss, which was measured on intraoral periapical radiographs with a modified Schei ruler method. In the study, moderate-to-severe gum disease was defined as the number of teeth showing significant amount of bone loss. Coffee consumption was based on participant self-reports using the Cornell Medical Index and food frequency questionnaires. This helped determine the number of teeth with moderate-to-severe disease at each examination by coffee intake level.

The findings revealed coffee consumption was associated with a small but statistically significant reduction in the number of teeth with periodontal bone loss. The researchers took into account risk factors such as alcohol consumption, education, diabetes status, body mass index, smoking, frequency of brushing and flossing, and recent periodontal treatment or dental cleanings. “We found that coffee consumption did not have an adverse effect on periodontal health, and, instead, may have protective effects against periodontal disease.” Ng said.

Although the findings of this study warrant further investigation in a more diverse study population, previous studies have shown drinking coffee can be beneficial to oral health. A recent study published in the journal Letters in Applied Microbiology found moderate consumption of black coffee could protect your teeth from decay and actually help fight plaque. However, the coffee tested was black, strong, and unsweetened, applied in moderate amounts. The coffee must be consumed without milk, cream, or sugar, since these substances will have a counterproductive effect.

The literature on the health-boosting properties of this caffeinated beverage continue to grow as more Americans are drinking coffee and relying on it as their primary source of polyphenol chemicals, or antioxidants.

Sources: Garcia RI, Kaye EK, Ng N. Coffee Consumption and Periodontal Disease in Males. Journal of Periodontology. 2014.

Antonio AG, dos Santos KRN, Farah A et al. Antibacterial effect of coffee: calcium concentration in a culture containing teeth/biofilm exposed to Coffea Canephora aqueous extract. Letters in Applied Microbiology. 2014.