Okay, strictly speaking, this may be a bend to the truth. You must be informed that no ‘sweet’ or ‘candy’ is good for your teeth or your overall health. They all contain sugars, and sugar is a bacterium’s best friend.
Now that’s the boring bit out of the way… is chocolate really better than other sweets? Well, good news, chocolate has the potential to be a cavity fighter!
It also depends on which type of chocolate: dark chocolate is the best as it also contains rich antioxidants. It can help with weight loss, heart complications and generally improves your mood. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, may not be so beneficial, with cacao contents only approximately 10 percent. White chocolate does not even contain any chocolate solids, consisting of sugar, cocoa butter and milk products.
So, it is the cacao that we really want to focus on.
What causes cavities?
Caries is a bacterial disease where certain bacteria on the tooth surface produce acid, which erodes away the enamel.
What causes caries?
The causes of dental caries include:
- Tooth surface
- A diet high in carbohydrate
The combination of enamel being made up of calcium hydroxyapatite, bacteria in the mouth, a high carbohydrate diet consisting of sugars that bacteria thrive on, and a period of time, creates the perfect breeding ground for caries to flourish.
Therefore, we need to work to reduce some of these factors. We can’t really eliminate all the bacteria living inside of our oral cavities. Nor is it ideal to have any fewer teeth. Preferred methods include decreasing the time between cleaning teeth and the retention time of food in the mouth, as well as decreasing carbohydrate and sugar consumption. Bacteria can, however, be managed and controlled by regular brushing and flossing, scraping the tongue and mouth rinsing.
Cariogenicity is the measure of a substance’s ability to cause caries.
High cariogenic foods should be avoided when possible, and they include:
- Sweets -these are more harmful than other carbohydrates and food sources
- Soft drinks
All carbohydrates are cariogenic as they break down into simple sugars such as glucose, fructose, lactose and maltose.
Which sugar is the worst for teeth?
The Biddy Index is a measure of the cariogenicity of specific foods based on their sugar content and how long they are kept in the mouth. Sucrose is at the top of the Biddy Index.
Why is sucrose the worst?
Without getting too scientific, sucrose is a sugar consisting of the simpler sugars glucose and fructose. The bond between these two has high energy. A bacterial strain in the mouth is able to break this bond and use this high energy for itself.
Compared to other sugars, the energy potential in the sucrose bond is the highest, thus making it easier for bacteria to erode the enamel -they like to take the easy way out. I mean, don’t we all?
Does sugar really cause cavities?
There have been several studies conducted on this matter. For example, in the UK, during the Second World War, there was fairly low sugar consumption as a result of shortages. After this period, there was an increase in sugar consumption due to more availability. Consequently, there has also been an increase in caries incidences.
A Vipeholm study, where adult dental caries was monitored and food intake controlled, concluded that caries was more affluent with those who consumed a higher percentage of sucrose. Additionally, it was found that the more solid sweets which were retained in the mouth for longer were more cariogenic than liquid sucrose.
People with the genetic condition Hereditary Fructose Intolerance, tend to avoid eating sucrose. These people have shown to have lower incidences of caries.
Enough evidence for you?
So, why is chocolate better?
Research has shown that cacao found in chocolate contains chemical compounds called polyphenols, which are thought to be successful in preventing some bacteria producing the decay-causing acid, allowing for the prevention of caries. They are also able to reduce bacteria in the mouth, therefore decreasing the risk of cavities, plaque and tooth decay. Additionally, phenols are thought to neutralise bad-breath-causing microorganisms.
In fact, compounds existing in chocolate may even be more effective than fluoride for preventing cavities. Chocolate contains the compound called Cocoa Bean Husk (CBH) which research, conducted by Osaka University in Japan, has shown combats the growth rate of some oral bacteria (streptococci). Therefore, decreased bacteria means there is a reduced potential acid attack on the enamel.
In order to get the highest percentage of cacao possible, opt for dark chocolate, which has many other added health benefits as it is a potent antioxidant. It is said to help prevent cancer and maintain a healthy heart. So, dark chocolate is good for your overall health as well as your teeth! Just be sure to brush after snacking and consume it mindfully -chocolate still contains calories.
What sweets should I avoid?
Like most things in life, sweets and chocolate should be consumed in moderation. The worst sweets on the market are those which last the longest in your mouth, such as:
- dried fruit
- gummy worms -these are also highly acidic!
Most sweets contain an abominable amount of sugar, but those with the highest amounts of sucrose are the devil.
Whilst there are many other foods available to the general population which may be better for one’s oral health, chocolate does have some benefits. Chocolate is less cariogenic than other sweets and the retention time is reduced. Furthermore, it is thought to reduce calcium phosphate solubility therefore protecting enamel from acid degradation.
The ideal chocolate to be consuming will contain 70-80% cacao and less than 6g sugar. Aim to eat your chocolate straight after a meal and try to eat 3 times a day, avoiding snacking as it prolongs the time your teeth are in contact with sugars.