When people think of foods that are good for the teeth, chocolate is not usually at the top of the list. However, research has revealed that a compound found in chocolate called theobromine can have a strengthening effect on tooth enamel. The effect is similar to that of fluoride, which is added to most toothpastes to protect tooth enamel and prevent cavities. In light of the research on theobromine, some people are wondering whether chocolate could actually be a tooth-friendly food.
The Effects of Theobromine
Fluoride and theobromine work in similar ways to protect teeth. They both trigger the formation of a kind of crystal known as apatite, which merges with tooth enamel to repair the damage caused by acids produced by bacteria or found naturally in food. Tooth enamel protects teeth from the harmful effects of bacteria by creating a strong barrier to protect the vulnerable nerves inside the tooth.
Chocolate: Beneficial or Harmful?
The theobromine in chocolate protects teeth, but chocolate also contains many ingredients that can damage teeth. Chocolate usually contains high levels of sugar or corn syrup, which encourages the growth of bacteria in the mouth. Therefore, it is not clear whether chocolate is actually good for teeth, as it could have both harmful and beneficial effects.
How to Enjoy Chocolate Safely
To minimise the harms of chocolate and maximise its potential benefits, it is a good idea to choose chocolate with a high cocoa content, rather than chocolate that contains high levels of sugar. The good news for dentists is that the popularity of dark chocolate is increasing all around the world. Some manufacturers even produce chocolate that is made from 100% cocoa powder and cocoa butter, with no sugar added, although many people find the bitterness of this kind of chocolate too strong.
Could Chocolate Be Used in Toothpaste?
To get the benefits of theobromine without the harmful effects of other ingredients in chocolate, one approach may be to extract theobromine from the cocoa plant and include it in dental products. One American manufacturer is already making a kind of toothpaste known as Theodent, which contains theobromine-rich cocoa extract. Most other toothpastes contain fluoride instead of theobromine, but some people are concerned about the health effects that fluoride can have if it is swallowed, for example by kids. These people may prefer to use dental products based on theobromine rather than fluoride, although the official recommendation of the Australian Dental Association continues to be that brushing with fluoride toothpaste is important for preventing tooth decay.
Talk to a dentist for additional information and advice.