Sure, ordering a sandwich or burger sans cheese helps you save on fat, but it turns out that cheddar may do more than turn up the flavor of your food. According to a new study from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), cheese protects your pearly whites from acid erosion—the breakdown of enamel brought on by coffee, tea, wine, soda, and so on.
How’s it work? Well, our mouths naturally have a slightly acidic (low) pH, and when we consume foods or drinks that drive that pH level even lower, our tooth enamel takes a hit. While saliva acts as a neutralizing agent and restores pH levels in the mouth after we eat, some foods can assist in the pH-boosting process. When AGD researchers tested how milk, yogurt, and cheddar cheese affect oral pH levels, they found that cheese elevates pH for 30 minutes after eating (milk and yogurt’s protective effects lasted only 10 minutes).
Researchers believe two factors make cheese a dental superstar. First, it’s a “sialogogue,” a compound that causes salivation. Cheese also contains teeth-strengthening casein phosphate. The best part: Neither factor is related to cheese’s fat content, which means low-fat varieties are just as effective, says Jeffrey Cole, DDS, president of the AGD.
Still, you don’t have to devour a whole wheel of low-fat cheese to enjoy its protective benefit. All it takes is a 1/3-ounce serving, or about a third of a slice. For the biggest mouth-saving effect, Cole recommends taking bites from a piece of cheese throughout the course of a meal, snack or glass of wine, and always ending with the cheese.
3 More Foods That Won’t Wreck Your Teeth
- Fruit: If you’re craving sugar, hard fruits, like apples and peaches, are your best bet. These sweets won’t stick to your teeth. Plus, they contain fructose (fruit sugar), which is gentler on enamel than sucrose (table sugar), says Cole.
- Vegetables: Chomping on hard vegetables, like carrots, will help keep your teeth strong without leaving behind a sticky residue.
- Water: While not a food, water is nature’s mouthwash. A swish of water after eating will help restore natural pH, says Cole.
And 3 Foods That Attack Tooth Enamel
- Diet Soda: Because diet soda has an extremely low pH (between 2.5 and 3.5), its erosion effects are just as bad as those produced by the drug methamphetamine, according to another recent study from the AGD. “You could even be drinking white household vinegar, which has the same acidity as diet soda,” notes Cole.
- Sports Drinks: With large amounts of acid and sugar, sports drinks turn teeth into cavity hot spots.
- Coffee and Tea: Your morning cup of Joe is essentially a mug of acid, and when you sip it slowly, it breaks down tooth enamel. Tea is worse thanks to its tannic acids, says Cole. Your best bet: Opt for coffee without sugar (and with a splash of milk) over tea, and try not to sip it all morning.