Many popular children’s cereals are high in sugars that can lead to tooth decay, especially when the cereal is eaten dry. But a recent study indicates that drinking milk after eating sugary cereals may help prevent associated cavities.
The Dental Dangers of Dry Cereals
Dry cereals contain refined sugar and starch, carbohydrates that interact with the bacteria on the surfaces of your teeth to produce acids. These acids lead to the accumulation of plaque; without treatment, the plaque erodes the enamel on your teeth, leading to discolored teeth, tooth decay and cavities.
Consuming dry cereal is a notable health concern for toddlers, as parents often provide dry cereal as a snack while the children’s baby teeth are emerging and their mouths are developing. While cereal is not necessarily bad, it’s important to remember that they vary widely in sugar levels, and maintaining a good dental hygiene routine is critical to your and your child’s long-term oral health.
The findings of a study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and published last year in the Journal of the American Dental Association suggest that drinking milk after eating dry cereal reduces the levels of plaque-causing acids that damage tooth enamel and contribute to cavities.
The study involved 20 adults who each ate 20 grams of dry Froot Loops cereal then drank one of three beverages: whole milk, 100 percent apple juice or water. Participants’ plaque acidity levels were measured prior to eating, at 2- and 5-minute intervals after eating, and again at 2 and 30 minutes after drinking.
After consuming the cereal, the participants’ plaque pH levels plummeted and remained acidic at 30 minutes after eating. When following dry cereal with milk, participants sustained a significant spike in pH balance and reduced levels of acid. Those who drank water saw a slight acid reduction, while those who drank apple juice remained constant or saw a jump in acidity; researchers noted that many fruit juices, even 100 percent apple juice as used in the study, are high in sugars and can significantly increase the risk of cavities, especially when paired with sugary cereal.
Milk and Dental Plaque Production
The benefits of milk in this case, it should be noted, are only associated with drinking after eating dry cereal. Mixing milk with cereal creates a syrupy combination that actually increases acidity.
Researchers believe that milk helps limit the harmful effects of fermentable carbohydrates, a theory echoed by other studies into milk’s properties for promoting remineralization and inhibiting plaque growth. However, research into the relationship between diet and cavities has largely focused on sugar and carbohydrate content; few have examined how combinations of foods, and the order in which they are consumed, may affect tooth decay.
Accomplished Austin, Texas, dentist Dr. Dan Matthews is dedicated to helping patients achieve and maintain beautiful, healthy smiles. To learn more about our services or schedule your appointment, please contact Dr. Matthews online or call our office at 512-452-2273.