Chocolate and Dental Decay

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So chocolate candy has significant nutritional value and cocoa, properly prepared, is among the most nutritious of foods - this much will by now grudgingly be conceded by even the staunchest of critics. but chocolate, after all, is a major cause of dental decay, and what has the wiseacre cacahuatl eater to say to that? He says merely that the notion that chocolate causes holes in one's teeth is itself full of holes; that not only cocoa and chocolate not particularly related to dental decay, in spite of their being eaten with sugar, but that both in fact have shown rather a prophylactic effect against tooth decay in human as well as animal experiments. That is to say, cocoa and chocolate help prevent dental decay, even though they may be compounded in forms having 50% sugar,

It has been well established that tooth decay is cause by bacterial colonies growing on the teeth. The main culprit is Streptococcus mutans. These bacteria require a source of energy to sustain their growth, and this is afforded by sugar or starches in the diet of their host, which may cling to the teeth where it can be digested by the bacteria. Sugary foods in general have been taken to be a major cause of tooth decay, and chocolate in particular, owing to its pervasive popularity, has been singled out as an especially obdurate villain. In a recent review of the evidence regarding sugar and dental decay, Finn and Glass stated: "Unquestionably, eating large amounts of sugar can increase the dental caries incidence. But there is a great deal of epidemiological evidence to indicate that it does not necessarily do so, depending upon the physical form in which it is eaten, the other ingredients of the food with which it is compounded, the amount eaten, the frequency with which it is eaten, and undoubtedly other circumstances as yet not comprehended." (italics in the original.) Finn and Glass cite the results of the Vipeholm Dental Caries Study in which 436 adult inmates of a Swedish mental institute were divided into several groups receiving different, but strictly controlled diet, which were maintained over a 5 year period, during which the incidence of tooth decay was monitored. There was a "chocolate group" whose members each received 65 g of milk chocolate daily between meals, with no significant rise in dental decay. Meanwhile, 77 employees of the mental institution were given 54 g of milk chocolate daily between meals, again with no observed increase in tooth decay.

The formation of dental plaque is considered to be a major contributing factor to tooth decay. Brushing and flossing the teeth are designed both to eliminate plaque buildup as well as actual particles of foods, so as not to provide the bacteria with their needed energy source. Generally speaking, sugary foods are regarded to contribute heavily to the formation of dental plaque. It has been shown, however, that ingestion of chocolate itself does not lead to the formation of dental plaque, that in fact, the contrary is the case. In a study by Grenby, 12 subjects (aged 19-210 lived 5 days on a normal diet, did not brush their teeth during this period, and the amount of plaque formed was measured by staining, taking the difference from the starting values. During another 5 day period, these same 12 subjects received 340-454 g of chocolate daily ( or 3/4 to 1 pound) together with 85-113 g of skim milk powder. They received no other food, and again did not brush their teeth. After 5 days on the chocolate/skim milk diet, plaque was again measured by staining. As Grenby summarized the results: "Comparing both the plaque scores of individual teeth and the results in the 12 subjects, the normal diet produced significantly higher plaque scores than the chocolate/skim milk powder diet." Grenby speculated that the high fat content of the chocolate helped form a coating on the teeth, reducing the formation of plaque.

-Text from: pp. 63-64, The Cacahuatl Eater Ruminations Of An Unabashed Chocolate Addict, Jonathan Ott, 1985
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19th century, dentistry, dentist, teeth