Milk: The New After-Dinner Mint

Got milk? According to a recent Science Daily article, and now probably most dentists, you should never be too far from the nearest dairy source.  New research out of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry claims that consuming a glass of milk after eating sugary cereal might help reduce the risk of cavities.  Apparently, the milk reduces plaque acid levels, preventing damage to tooth enamel which could result in dental caries.  The research was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Principal investigator and professor of pediatric dentistry, Christine Wu, explains that ready-to-eat breakfast cereals typically combine refined sugar and starch, a combination which causes the production of acids in the mouth.  There were 20 adult participants in the study, each consuming 20 grams of dry Fruit Loops cereal.  Upon completion, subjects then drank one of three beverages, whole milk, 100% apple juice, or tap water.  Plaque pH, or acidity, was measured between the premolar teeth before eating, two and five minutes after eating, and then two to 30 minutes after drinking.  A pH level below a 7 is considered acidic while anything greater than 7 is basic.  After participants ate the cereal, pH levels dropped rapidly and remained acidic (5.83) at 30 minutes after consumption.  Those who drank the apple juice still had acidic levels (5.84) at the 30 minute mark, while water drinkers experienced a slight rise (6.02).  Only milk was able to significantly raise the pH level (6.4 to 6.7) after consuming sugary cereal, leading researchers to conclude that it helps to “mitigate the damaging effect of fermentable carbohydrate and overcome the previously lowered plaque pH.”

Many consumers might assume that adding milk to their daily Fruit Loops is effective in fighting off the cavity causing acid, but researchers warn against this theory.  When milk and Fruit Loops were combined, scientists found they created a syrup-like substance that was found to lower plaque pH to levels similar to those found after rinsing with a 10% sugar solution.  It’s only when milk is consumed separately that individuals can reap the cavity-fighting benefits.  According to the study’s lead investigator, food sequencing, or the order in which we consume food, can be used to maintain and preserve good oral health, and may be a public health educational tool to assist in improving oral health of all Americans.

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