Research Suggests Drinking Milk After Sweet Snacks to Fight Decay

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If you don’t have your toothbrush handy after enjoying some cookies or candy, you may want to reach for a glass of milk. Dr. Christine Wu of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry is investigating whether drinking milk after consuming sweet treats could reduce dental plaque acid production.

“We want to raise public awareness that milk, when sequenced properly between and especially after sugary snacks, can reduce caries risk and benefit oral health, especially in children,” Wu said.

Previously, Wu studied how plant-derived antiplaque and antibiofilm compounds could be used against oral pathogens. She also has studied the oral health benefits of specific foods and beverages, especially dietary plant polyphenols (catechins and proanthocynandins) including teas, raisins, cranberries, and dried plums.

Funded by the National Dairy Council, her current study will examine whether low-fat milk, 100% apple juice, or tap water affect dental plaque acidity in children ages 7 to 11 years old “after a sugary challenge by a dry, ready to eat breakfast cereal,” she said. “The protective effect of milk consumption in reducing dental plaque acidity will be compared with effects after juice or water consumption.”

The study will generate awareness that compared to water or sugar-added fruit juices, milk may be “the healthy beverage of choice to prevent tooth decay, especially after consumption of sugary snacks or desserts,” Wu said.

“Drinking milk has been accepted as an excellent habit for nutrition and, in particular, for the health of bone and teeth,” said Wu. She also noted that milk has anticarcinogenic properties and that its benefits to oral health are “ultimately associated with a person’s systemic health and well-being.”

In an earlier study, Wu and her team also showed that non-cariogenic foods such as milk can modify the cariogenic potential of sugars. However, she said, “it remains unknown whether a similar situation exists in children, who frequently consume sugary snacks and juices and lack awareness of proper follow-up oral hygiene measures.”

Furthermore, Wu said that drinking milk may offer caries protection, but brushing and maintenance of good oral hygiene are still the best methods for reducing dental plaque.

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