Dental plaque is the spark that ignites some of the worst -- and most common -- oral health problems. The sticky, invisible film clings to the surface of your teeth and along your gumline, where it traps bacteria that feast on carbohydrates and generate harsh acids. Plaque promotes tooth erosion and decay, and if it’s not removed regularly, it can lead to tartar buildup, gum disease and tooth loss.
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Green tea protects oral health by preventing plaque buildup. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the polyphenols in green tea either destroy or suppress plaque bacteria, which significantly slows their growth and reduces the amount of acids they produce. A 2009 study published in the “Journal of Periodontology” found that individuals who consume green tea on a regular basis have better oral health than those who don’t. Preparing your tea with sugar or lemon, however, will counteract these benefits.
Cranberry juice is routinely used to treat and prevent urinary tract infections -- the proanthocyanidins it contains inhibit bacterial adhesion. Not only does this prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract, but it also appears to keep bacteria from clinging to teeth. A study conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2005 found that cranberry juice interferes with the enzymes used to produce plaque, thereby disrupting its formation. Drinking cranberry juice may reduce plaque formation by as much as 50 percent, according to the Humana website.
Winding down a meal with cheese -- which is a time-honored tradition in some parts of the world -- appears to have significant oral health benefits. Cheese promotes the flow of saliva, which helps clear your mouth of the acids generated by plaque bacteria. Cheese also reduces the amount of acid in your saliva and effectively increases the pH level of your mouth, which protects tooth enamel. The researchers behind a 2013 study published in the journal “General Dentistry” speculate that some of the compounds in cheese may adhere to teeth and protect them from plaque acids.
The only way to effectively keep dental plaque at bay is by brushing and flossing between meals, or at least twice a day. Because plaque formation is a normal byproduct of eating, plaque buildup is common. Plaque that isn’t removed by brushing and flossing eventually hardens into tarter. If it’s not removed by a professional, tarter typically leads to gum disease. Rinsing your mouth out with water after eating -- especially if it’s fluoridated -- can help reduce plaque acids before you brush. Chewing sugarless gum is also beneficial, as it stimulates the flow of saliva. Opt for products made with xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener that helps prevent plaque.