Does Milk Protect Teeth From Cavities?

Listen up parents! And anyone who eats chocolatey, sugary cereals for that matter. 

New research from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry claims that washing down a breakfast of sugary cereal with milk is wise and could prevent cavities.

The study isn’t entirely believable upon first glance. I mean, how can milk prevent cavities?  But ScienceDaily reported it’s true: if you are going to eat sugary cereal, it’s better to eat it with milk (or right before a glass of milk) rather than dry. 

This way, the plaque acid levels are reduced when the mouth is rinsed with milk. So if someone consumed sugary cereal by itself on a regular basis, it could potentially damage tooth enamel and cause cavities.

How Milk Can Reduce Cavities

What are sugary cereals like Cocoa Puffs made of, aside from sugar? 

Essentially, starch.

Even though it feels like you are eating something light, dry sugary cereal is a pile of carbohydrates. 

When the carbs are eaten, “bacteria in the dental plaque on tooth surfaces produce acids,” according to principal investigator of the study Christine Wu.

This rule doesn’t just apply to cereal, though sugar-loaded cereal is particularly bad for your teeth. 

It’s a good idea to keep this rule in mind: a carb intake of more than 60 grams per day will increase your risk of cavities.

For the study which was printed in the Journal of the American Dental Association, 20 adults consumed 20 grams of Fruit Loops without milk, and then again with various beverages including whole milk, apple juice, or water. 

After eating, pH levels were measured at 2 minutes, then again at 5 minutes.  Then after drinking a beverage, pH was measured again between 2 and 30 minutes afterwards.

To give you perspective, a pH of 7 (tap water) is normal -- below this is acidic, and greater is basic. After eating the Fruit Loops, pH dropped drastically in participants, proving that a dry sugary cereal creates an acidic coating in the mouth. 

However, when participants drank milk after the cereal, the pH rose the highest after 30 minutes. Participants who drank apple juice remained at the same exact pH, while those who drank water had a slight rise in pH.

Study authors conclude that milk is the most effective beverage at raising and stabilizing lowered plaque pH levels due to consumption of dry sugary cereals. 

Convenient, since cereal pairs with milk rather well. Fruit juices, like apple juice, even if not from concentrate, contain a surprising amount of sugar. 

Some children will have cereal with milk with a glass of fruit juice afterwards. This sequence of food consumption is highly unadvised, as it’s a combination that can cause cavities.

By itself, milk, “a pH ranging from 6.4 to 6.7, is considered to be a functional beverage that fights cavities because it promotes tooth remineralization and inhibits the growth of plaque,”  according to Wu. 

Makes sense, since we are told to feed our children milk from the get-go. 

Just look out for the sugar content in their cereal, and make sure it’s always with milk!

Dr. Brad Hylan is a gentle and affordable comprehensive care dentist located in Cleveland, OH. Hylan Dental Care specializes in emergency care and takes same day appointments. We are active on FacebookPinterestTwitter, and FourSquare. Connect with us and learn! 


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