Have some dark chocolate each day to keep the cavities away? It seems to fly in the face of common sense: A cocoa extract is more effective at protecting teeth than fluoride? But that’s the word from researchers who found that an ingredient in chocolate can fight cavities and promote dental health.
Arman Sadeghpour, PhD, led the Tulane University arm of the research team, which also included scientists from the University of New Orleans and Louisiana University’s School of Dentistry. They compared a cocoa extract versus fluoride, side-by-side on the enamel surface of human teeth.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth turn sugar into acids, which eat away at the tooth’s surface and cause cavities. Compounds in the cocoa bean husk have an anti-bacterial effect and also fight against plaque. This makes chocolate less harmful than many other sweet foods your dentist might warn you against because the antibacterial agents in cocoa beans offset its high sugar levels.
The key to cocoa’s dental benefits, according to Sadeghpour, is a substance called theobromine. A water-insoluble, crystalline bitter powder, theobromine is an alkaloid of the cacao plant, and is therefore found in chocolate along with teas and other foods. Its chemical makeup is similar to caffeine. Theobromine helps harden tooth enamel, making teeth less susceptible to decay.
The cocoa extract could offer the first major innovation in commercial toothpaste since manufacturers began adding fluoride in 1914. Sadeghpour has since started up a biotech company, Theodent, and created a prototype of peppermint-flavored toothpaste with the cavity-fighting cocoa extract. “We are now working on the steps for approval” toward a marketable product, he says. His cocoa-enhanced toothpaste could hit supermarket shelves within two to four years.
In the meantime, Sadeghpour adds that consuming foods containing theobromine also boosts dental health. “Consumers do receive some benefit to all their bone tissue just from eating chocolate, thanks to the theobromine,” he says.
Now, this isn’t an excuse to binge on bonbons, nor ditch your floss and toothbrush.
- For the best therapeutic effect, it’s best to chew on cacao nibs. Most will find this option unpalatable.
- The second best choice, is dark chocolate with less than 6-8 grams of sugar per serving – organic if possible. Be aware that chocolate is a calorie-rich food, so modify your calorie intake accordingly.
- Raw chocolate is even a better choice, as it it less processed, and more of the antioxidants are left intact.