There’s one beverage dental and medical professionals can agree on as being the most beneficial for both oral health and overall health, and the answer is good ol’ H2O. Although most people would say it’s the most boring beverage, it’s also the most popular, with 12.8 billion gallons of bottled water sold in the US alone in 2016—that’s more than 39 gallons consumed per person1.
Water is quite beneficial to teeth, as it increases the pH of saliva, making it less acidic and more basic, thereby helping to neutralize the detrimental effects of acidic foods on tooth enamel. Additionally, water flushes away food particles and residue that cavity-causing bacteria are looking for, fights dry mouth, is calorie-free, and dilutes the acids produced by bacteria found naturally in the mouth. So we’ve established that water is good for teeth, but what about wine, tea, and milk? Probably not quite as good, right? Well, let’s take a look at some research for each.
Wine lovers, rejoice!
Studies and clinical trials show that wine—specifically red wine that contains resveratrol, a naturally occurring polyphenol—may play an important role in managing or preventing a variety of diseases. Some of the health benefits include cardioprotective effects, chemopreventive properties, and improved glycemic control.
But what about wine and oral health? Good news: a study published in the February 2018 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that red wine contains antioxidants that prevent plaque-causing bacteria from sticking to gum tissue.2
In 2014, another study published in that journal showed that red wine might help prevent periodontal disease and teeth loss by effectively fighting three out of five periodontal disease-causing bacteria strains.3 Furthermore, a 2007 study conducted in Italy’s University of Pavia showed that both red and white wine may help prevent the proliferation of streptococci, a type of bacteria associated with cavities, tooth decay, and sore throats.4 And a 2015 study published in Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, the top pharmacology research journal based in China, found that resveratrol significantly decreased blood glucose levels, markedly reduced the expression of proinflammatory cytokines that can cause gingivitis, and ameliorated alveolar bone loss in mice.5
By no means does this research suggest that swishing a mouthful of wine is just as effective as mouthwash, but given a choice between chugging a can of soda or sipping a glass of Chianti, wine is the way to go.
How about a nice cup of tea?
Tea is one of the most frequently consumed beverages in the world, second only to water.6 Despite its potential esthetic disadvantage of temporary discoloration of teeth, tea consumption has been shown to help improve several aspects of oral health.
A 2013 study by Araghizadeh, et al reported that green tea extract inhibited the proliferation of Streptococcus mutans, the primary bacteria responsible for causing dental caries and periodontitis.7 Green tea has also been shown to exhibit inhibitory activity on other periodontopathic bacteria as well, such as P. gingivalis, A. actinomycetemcomitans, and P. intermedia.7 In 2010, a study by Koyama et al demonstrated that drinking more than one cup of green tea per day was associated with significantly decreased risk for tooth loss.8
One variety of tea in particular—oolong tea—has been shown to reduce dental caries.9 The mechanism depends on the polyphenols in the tea which inhibit the function of glucosyltransferase, an important enzyme that allows S. mutans to attach to enamel.9 Other studies reported that green tea polyphenols displayed an inhibitory effect on the growth and development of oral squamous cell carcinoma, and studies conducted on patients with oral leukoplakia, a precancerous lesion, indicated a significant reduction in the patients’ leukoplakia and precancerous cellular damage.10
To be fair, despite all these oral and dental health benefits, there are studies that indicate the negative consequences of excessive tea consumption. The key word here is “excessive.” Consuming anything in excess—even something as innocuous as water—can lead to detrimental health effects.
Milk: it does a body good… including the teeth and mouth, too.
In dental circles, milk generally gets a bad rep, due primarily to its causational relationship to baby bottle tooth decay, also known as early childhood caries. Infants and toddlers who are given milk in a bottle and then put to sleep with the bottle in their mouth are more susceptible to developing rampant caries caused by prolonged exposure to the sugar content of milk. But consumption of milk by adults, and by children who no longer use bottles, does have its benefits.
One cup of milk provides nearly 300 milligrams of calcium, which is nutrient necessary for healthy bone growth, and also for the development of healthy teeth. Teeth and bones store 99 percent of the body’s calcium, according to the National Institutes of Health.11 A baby’s teeth begin forming while the baby is still in the womb, and is a reason for expecting mothers to consume the recommended daily allowance of between 1,000 and 1300 mg of calcium per day, to allow proper tooth (and bone) development.11
Dairy also has decay-fighting properties. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, researchers examined the effects of whole milk, apple juice, or tap water after 20 adult participants ate Froot Loops cereal.12 The participants were told not to brush their teeth for 24 hours to allow plaque to build up on their tooth enamel to effectively test out their theory. The study results showed that milk helped to strengthen participants’ teeth and lower the acidic levels after the cereal consumption.12
According to the American Dental Association, the order in which a person eats sugary foods and milk products can also make a difference to dental health. They state that drinking milk after eating sugary foods can lower harmful acidic levels in the mouth.12 So don’t eat cookies with milk—eat cookies and then drink milk to help wash them down and help neutralize salivary pH, too.
So, which is your beverage of choice?
Water, wine, tea, or milk? In moderation, they each have beneficial effects on teeth and overall oral health. The good thing about this rather diverse selection of beverages is just that—its diversity. For many, all four of these beverages have a place in a typical daily diet: Water from the water cooler at work, from the tap at home, or in bottles when on the go. A glass or two of wine at dinner, paired with a favorite meal. Enjoyed in an ice-cold glass with a cookie for dipping, or poured over cereal at breakfast, milk is often a family favorite. And last but not least, tea is considered a more healthy option over coffee, sipped in the afternoon or before bed to help aid in rest and relaxation. Choose one, choose them all—just know that you’re not only satisfying your thirst, you’re getting a variety of oral health benefits with each cup consumed.
If you enjoyed this article then check out The Dental Geek’s look at the effects of apple cider vinegar on oral health!
- Esteban-Fernández A, et al. Inhibition of Oral Pathogens Adhesion to Human Gingival Fibroblasts by Wine Polyphenols Alone and in Combination with an Oral Probiotic. J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Mar 7;66(9):2071-2782.
- Muñoz-González, I et al. Red Wine and Oenological Extracts Display Antimicrobial Effects in an Oral Bacteria Biofilm Model. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 62(20),4731-4737.
- Daglia M. et al. Antibacterial Activity of Red and White Wine against Oral Streptococci. J. Agric Food Chem. 2007, 55(13),5038-5042.
- Zhen L, et al. Resveratrol Ameliorates Experimental Periodontitis in Diabetic Mice through Negative Regulation of TLR4 Signaling. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2015 Feb. 36(2);221-228.
- Araghizadeh A, et al. Inhibitory Activity of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) Extract on some Clinically Isolated Cariogenic and Periodontopathic Bacteria. Med Princ Pract. 2013;22(4);368-72.
- Koyama Y, et al. Association between Green Tea Consumption and Tooth Loss: Cross-sectional Results from the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study. Prev Med. 2010 Apr;50(4):173-9.
- Ooshima T, et al. Oolong tea polyphenols inhibit experimental dental caries in SPF rats infected with mutans streptococci. Caries Res. 1993;27(2):124-9.
- Vijayalakshmi R, et al. Chemoprevention of Oral Cancer: Green Tea Experience. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2014 Jan-Jun;5(1)3-7.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. National Academies Press (US). 1997.
- Naval S, et al. The Effects of Beverages on Plaque Acidogenicity after a Sugary Challenge. J Am Dent Assoc. 2013 Jul;144(7):815-22.