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Cocoa/Tea Factor Tops Fluoride at Deterring Decay
7/2/2007
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Caffeine-cousin found in tea and dark chocolate proves a potent plaque-and-cavity fighter

by Craig Weatherby


Honest to gosh, we're not making this up.


Tooth decay is perhaps the most preventable disease plaguing humankind, but there have been few advances in cavity-fighting additives for toothpastes since the end of WW II.


No risk of brushing jitters

There’s no serious chance that toothpaste made with theobromine would cause caffeine-like jitters. Both compounds are members of the xanthine family, but a subtle structural distinction between the two compounds results in profound physiological differences.


Whereas caffeine can cause the jitters and does nothing for tooth enamel, theobromine is a much milder stimulant that bolsters teeth.

But a doctoral student at Louisiana’s Tulane University has discovered a natural food compound that beats fluoride’s anti-cavity power.


Researchers in Japan reported that cocoa bean husks and water-soluble cocoa extracts suppress decay-causing bacteria and plaque formation, and proposed their use to deter tooth decay (Ooshima T et al 2000; Ito K et al 2003; Matsumoto M et al 2004).


Now we know the likely reason why the Japanese teams got results that may prove rewarding to lovers of cocoa and dark chocolate.

The newly proven enamel enhancer in tea and cocoa turns out to be theobromine, a far milder chemical cousin of caffeine.


According to Arman Sadeghpour, who led the research, preliminary tests show that this chemical strengthens teeth better than fluoride.


Better yet, theobromine outperforms fluoride at protecting teeth from bacteria-generated enamel-eroding acids, and it works these wonders at concentrations equal to those in which sodium fluoride is added to standard toothpastes.


The Tulane group now seeks to confirm that a toothpaste fortified with theobromine will yield the anti-cavity benefits seen in the lab.


And they’ve already found that mint works well to mask theobromine’s natural bitterness.


Tea and cocoa versus tooth decay: a growing record of success

It’s been clear for many years that tea helps prevent tooth decay. But it was thought that the polyphenol antioxidants in tea were solely responsible.


As researchers from Rutgers University noted “Catechins and theaflavins, polyphenolic compounds derived from tea … have been reported to have a wide range of biological activities including prevention of tooth decay and oral cancer” (Lee MJ et al 2004).


Now we know better, with the benefits attributed to tea extending to cocoa and dark chocolate, both of which are also rich in tea-type polyphenols as well as theobromine.


In recent years, researchers in Japan have published research showing that cocoa bean husks and water-soluble cocoa extracts suppress decay-causing bacteria and plaque formation, and proposed their use to deter tooth decay (Ooshima T et al 2000; Ito K et al 2003; Matsumoto M et al 2004).


Now we know the likely reason why the Japanese teams got results that may prove rewarding to lovers of cocoa and dark chocolate.


Dentists reacted to the Tulane findings by cautioning that the sugar in chocolate fuels cavity causing bacteria.


While this is true, studies show that the worst foods for teeth are not quick-dissolving sweets like chocolate, whose sugars do not linger in the mouth. Instead, the worst foods for teeth are starchy snacks like crackers, which leave sticky residues between teeth that release a steady stream of sugars over time.


In fact, British researchers found that, compared with cane sugar, a piece of dark, 70-percent-cocoa chocolate results in production of about 60 percent less enamel-eroding bacterial acids in the mouth (Verakaki E et al 2003).



Sources

  • Tulane University. Chocolate Toothpaste Better than Fluoride, Researcher Says. Accessed online June 17, 2007 at http://www2.tulane.edu/article_news_details.cfm?ArticleID=7364
  • Li JY, Zhan L, Barlow J, Lynch RJ, Zhou XD, Liu TJ.  [Effect of tea polyphenol on the demineralization and remineralization of enamel in vitro]
  • Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2004 May;35(3):364-6. Chinese.
  • Feng XP, Liu YL, Shu CB. [The clinical effects of tea polyphenol varnish on caries prevention] Shanghai Kou Qiang Yi Xue. 1997 Sep;6(3):135-7. Chinese.
  • Xiao Y, Liu T, Zhan L, Zhou X. [The effects of tea polyphenols on the adherence of cariogenic bacterium to the collagen in vitro] Hua Xi Kou Qiang Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2000 Oct;18(5):340-2. Chinese
  • Lee MJ, Lambert JD, Prabhu S, Meng X, Lu H, Maliakal P, Ho CT, Yang CS. Delivery of tea polyphenols to the oral cavity by green tea leaves and black tea extract. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Jan;13(1):132-7.
  • Verakaki E, Duggal MS. A comparison of different kinds of European chocolates on human plaque pH. Eur J Paediatr Dent. 2003 Dec;4(4):203-10.
  • Ito K, Nakamura Y, Tokunaga T, Iijima D, Fukushima K. Anti-cariogenic properties of a water-soluble extract from cacao. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003 Dec;67(12):2567-73.
  • Ooshima T, Osaka Y, Sasaki H, Osawa K, Yasuda H, Matsumura M, Sobue S, Matsumoto M. Caries inhibitory activity of cacao bean husk extract in in-vitro and animal experiments. Arch Oral Biol. 2000 Aug;45(8):639-45.

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