With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s pretty much impossible to miss the chocolate-filled displays in stores everywhere. If you’ve been having a hard time resisting the allure, we have good news for you: eating dark chocolate in moderation may actually improve your oral and overall health.
The team at Naperville Dental Specialists is sharing some compelling dental benefits of everyone’s favorite treat. Consider this your excuse to indulge!
But first, let’s talk phytochemicals:
Chocolate is truly a marvel of chemistry, and it’s one of the most complex foods around. Aside from being delicious, it’s also full of powerhouse nutrients and compounds, including:
One of the main health benefits of dark chocolate is its antioxidant capacity. This is thanks to the high levels of organic compounds called polyphenols it contains. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that would otherwise harm the cells in your body and increase your risk of disease, including those that affect your mouth.
You might have heard that polyphenol-rich tea and red wine are good for you. But one study determined that cocoa is even more beneficial than green tea, black tea and red wine in terms of antioxidant properties.
The cocoa beans in chocolate are rich in tannins, a subcategory of polyphenols. These compounds are what give dark chocolate its intense color and slightly bitter taste.
Does chocolate stain teeth if it has tannins? It’s true, in large quantities tannins can stain your teeth, but you’d have to eat a ton of chocolate, so it’s not likely.
Flavonoids are another group of polyphenols found in large quantities in cocoa beans. The health-promoting antioxidants keep everyday toxins away.
Here’s Why Chocolate is Smile-Friendly
Dark chocolate is dentist approved because it:
1. Inhibits Some Enamel-Destroying Acids
Cocoa polyphenols have been found to reduce the amount of acids produced when the bacteria in your mouth feed on certain types of sugars. Less acid means less enamel erosion and risk of tooth decay.
2. May Zap Cavity-Causing Bacteria
Studies suggest tannins and flavonoids inhibit some strains of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, promoting a healthy oral biome and making it harder for tooth decay to occur.
3. Boosts Periodontal (Gum) Health
Polyphenols, including tannins and flavonoids, have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. This can reduce the risk of gum disease and slow the progression of existing periodontitis (severe gum disease).
4. Discourages Plaque Formation
Tannins bind to oral bacteria, preventing it from sticking to the teeth and forming plaque. Flavonoids have been shown to reduce plaque formation too.
5. Fights Inflammation
The anti-inflammatory powers of tannins and flavonoids promote healing, whether from mouth injuries, sores or infections like gum disease.
6. Is Less Likely to Cause Cavities Than Other Treats
Acids are the byproduct of oral bacteria breaking down sugars and starches in the food you eat. These acid attacks erode tooth enamel and can eventually cause cavities.
Foods that stick in the teeth are the biggest offenders, because the longer the food is in your mouth, the more prolonged the acid attacks are. Surprisingly, this means things like crackers or even raisins are worse for the teeth than chocolate.
Dark chocolate doesn’t have a ton of sugar, it melts in your mouth and is easy to rinse away, so it won’t hang around on your teeth for too long. Plus, the fat it contains slows down the bacteria’s feeding frenzy.
7. Makes You Smile
The feel-good effects might not be one of the reasons chocolate is good for your teeth but, hey, there’s nothing we love more than a happy smile. Chocolate contains mood-boosting anandamide, stimulating theobromine and the aphrodisiac effects of phenylethylamine, leaving you feeling happier.
What Type of Chocolate is Healthy?
The cavity-fighting compounds and health benefits of chocolate come from the cocoa beans. Additives like sugar and cream might make white chocolate, milk chocolate and pretty much every candy bar taste amazing, but they don’t do anything for your smile.
In fact, when a patient asks, “Why do my teeth hurt when I eat chocolate?,” it’s almost always because they’re eating white or milk chocolate and the sugar leads to acid attacks that irritate sensitive areas of their teeth.
So, if you’re looking for healthy chocolate that is good for your teeth, go for dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa. The fewer additives and grams of sugar it contains the better.
Ready to Get a Smile You Love?
Of course, dark chocolate alone isn’t enough to achieve a healthy smile. But when combined with excellent oral hygiene and regular dental exams and cleanings, eating foods that are good for your teeth, including dark chocolate, will boost your oral health.
Our Naperville general dentists and specialists are here to help! We offer high-tech preventive, restorative, implant and cosmetic dentistry in one convenient location. Schedule a visit today to find out how we can give you a smile you love!