Jessamin E. Cipollina, M.A.
New year, new you! The first few months of any new year are a time for evaluating your lifestyle choices and making positive changes to improve health and happiness. Improving your overall health often includes changes to diet, exercise and routine. Recent studies show that fruit extracts from blueberries and other fruits contain nutrients that may lower the risk of tooth decay, plaque and gum disease.1,2 Many scientific studies have examined the health benefits of berries and other fruits, but new research specifically focuses on the oral health benefits of certain nutrients and compounds in fruit extracts that help protect teeth and gums.1-3 This year, to fight both candy cravings and cavities, keep in mind how blueberries can help prune-vent tooth decay.
Dark colored berries, namely blueberries and cranberries, have many health benefits beyond oral health; they are the best natural source of antioxidants and fiber, and help protect us from many serious illnesses including cancer and heart disease.3 These berries also contain polyphenols, which are natural compounds that fight bacteria in the mouth and protect teeth from decay.1-3 Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter, suggests utilizing these natural extracts in oral health care products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, or adding them to water and drinks as they are flavorless and dissolve in water.3
Although berries evidently have many health benefits and should certainly not be taken for pome-granted, they are often high in sugar and acid and should not be consumed in large quantities. Dr. Carter advises that although fruits contain natural sugar as opposed to unhealthy added sugar, consistently eating more than the daily recommended amount can lead to oral and overall health problems.3 Despite concerns, consuming raisin-able portions of these power-packed fruits is the key to keeping a happy and healthy smile.
Studies have examined the effects of fruit extracts on bacteria and the potential protective functions of nutrients and compounds in fruits. One study conducted in the UK tested the effects of blueberry, cranberry and strawberry extracts on Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) bacteria, a bacteria that contributes to dental caries.1 The researchers found that cranberry and blueberry extracts were most successful in compromising the activity and expression of S. mutans bacteria; strawberry extracts did not deter the bacteria in any way.1 A similar study focused on the effects of polyphenols found in blueberries on periodontitis, and found that these specific polyphenols had significant antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on the active components of periodontitis.2 These studies support the potential for berry extracts and polyphenols to protect against tooth decay, and further support recommendations to incorporate these extracts into dental products to fight dental disease.
Obviously many health benefits can come from adding more blueberries and cranberries to your new diet, but it is important to do so in moderation. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides guidelines on sugar intake for both adults and children for medical professionals to utilize. For adults, the daily recommended amount of sugar is no more than 25 grams of sugar a day, or about 6 teaspoons. This makes up about 5% of the average adult’s daily calorie intake.4,5 A recent article examined the use of these guidelines in dental practice and provided suggestions on how dental professionals can provide nutrition and diet advice that includes the importance of limiting both natural and “free” added sugars. Although the authors maintain that it is important to encourage patients to eat fresh fruit and avoid free sugars, they also acknowledge that excessive amounts of fruit should be avoided and that current guidelines provided by WHO should be followed.4
This year, why not add good oral health practices to your new year’s resolutions? Healthy eating is an important component of oral health and overall health at any age. Mindful eating can, in the long run, help prevent oral diseases along with visiting the dentist twice a year and brushing and flossing two times a day. An abundance of recent research supports that consuming blueberries, cranberries and other dark berries high in polyphenols pack a punch in the fight against tooth decay and other oral health complications. But before you chow down on a dry pint of blueberries, keep in mind that consuming high amounts of sugar can negate these positive effects by increasing risk of caries. In plum, adding more berries to your diet is a tasty and fruitful way to keep your mouth happy and promote good lifelong oral health practices. Orange you glad you took the time to read this?
- Philip, N., Bandara, H.M.H.N., Leishman, S.J. & Walsh, L.J. (2018). Inhibitory effects of fruit berry extracts on streptococcus mutans biofilms. European Journal of Oral Sciences, 1-8. DOI: 10.1111/eos.12602.
- Lagha, A.B., Dudonné, S., Desjardine, Y., & G, Daniel. (2015). Wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium Ait.) polyphenols target fusobacterium nucleatum and the host inflammatory response: Potential innovative molecules for treating periodontal diseases. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(31), 6999-7008. DOI: 1021/acs.jafc.5b01525.
- Oral Health Foundation. (2019). Cranberries and blueberries – why certain fruit extracts could provide the key to fighting tooth decay. Retrieved from https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/cranberries-and-blueberries-why-certain-fruit-extracts-could-provide-the-key-to-fighting-tooth-decay.
- Moynihan, P., Makino, Y., Peterson, P.E., Ogawa, H. (2017). Implications of WHO guideline on sugars for dental health professionals. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 46(1), 1-7. DOI: 10.1111/cdoe.12353.
- Jaslow, R. (2014). World health organization lowers sugar intake recommendations. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/world-health-organization-lowers-sugar-intake-recommendations/.