Milk – Calcium Rich but Not Cavity-Safe

Milk contains calcium, but also carries food for bacteria.

Milk is often recommended by dental authorities, especially for children, due to its calcium content. The calcium is taken up by the tooth enamel and used to keep the surfaces of teeth strong. This fact may lead some to think that drinking milk is the same as, or better than, drinking water. Keep in mind, however, that while milk can help rebuild enamel, it can also feed oral bacteria!

How We Get Cavities

Cavities in your teeth (called caries by dentists) are essentially caused by one of two things: the acid in your foods or the acid produced by oral bacteria. The major culprit for the majority of patients is the oral bacteria. Brushing the teeth, using fluoride, flossing regularly and visiting the Marconi Dental Group semi-annually helps keep these bacteria subdued.

Some people, however, read the good news about milk as a calcium-rich food and assume that they don’t need to brush their teeth if they’ve been drinking dairy products. Keep this in mind: bacteria feed on milk too! A recent study in Pediatric Dentistry, completed by the Chilean Dental School at the University of Talca, demonstrates that unless you’re drinking water, you still need to brush your teeth.

What the Experiment Says

Bacterial biofilms were placed on samples of enamel and dentin (the tooth material below the enamel) and then bathed eight times a day in either sugar water, whole cow’s milk or a lactose solution. After four or five days, the samples were examined for changes. The following observations were made:

  • As expected, sugar water did the best job of encouraging bacterial growth.
  • Dental surfaces exposed to milk did demineralize, especially the dentin.

The conclusion of the Chilean dental researchers is that while milk is better for your teeth than sugar water (that is, soft drinks), “this dairy product should not be considered caries-safe.”

Milk and Daily Life

This study demonstrates the truth of advice given by dentists over the years. First, babies and youngsters should never be allowed to fall asleep with their bottle, as the liquid, whether it’s milk or another substance, can lead to cavities. Second, milk is a meal — for you and for bacteria. While milk is not acidic, the by-products of well-fed bacteria are very acidic. Therefore, you should remember the advice to brush your teeth, and the teeth of your young children, after every meal, or at least twice a day. Combine that with regular visits to your Carmichael dentists at the Marconi Dental Group and we can focus on keeping your teeth cavity-safe and decay-free!

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  1. Sounds like a great program! Starting young with good habits is the key. I remember we had a flossing and brushing session after lunch in class every day in 1st-3rd grade.

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