Eating fat- and sugar-loaded Christmas meals may lead to tooth decay and bad breath. Fortunately, a recent study has determined that certain holiday foods and beverages naturally prevent cavities. Unfortunately, those same dinner table staples can still cause bad breath.
Research conducted by dental experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center has found that cranberries and red wine may prevent tooth decay from spreading in the mouth. Both reportedly work by inhibiting the acid-making ability of the Streptococcus mutans bacteria.
S. mutans is largely responsible for tooth decay and, by extension, decay-scented breath. Like the bacteria that produce the sulfur compounds that account for most halitosis, S. mutans lives on the teeth. It thrives on dietary sugar and releases acids as byproducts of its digestion. These acids corrode tooth enamel, leading to cavities and general dental decay. Even mild tooth decay can leave trace aromas on the breath.
Cranberries, the Rochester researchers found, can inhibit this cycle. They contain molecules called A-type proanthocyanidins, which prevent S. mutans from producing acid. They reported finding 45 percent fewer cavities in lab animals treated with proanthocyanidins. The study similarly found that red wine, which contains a chemical called polyphenol, can inhibit the acid production that causes tooth decay.
The snag for those planning to consume extra cranberries and wine over the holidays is that, regardless of their decay-fighting properties, they can still cause bad breath.
Many cranberry sauces and juices are loaded with sugar, sometimes in amounts which likely negate the effects of A-type proanthocyanidins. Sugar fuels bacterial growth in the mouth. Likewise, wine and other alcohols can dry out the palate, which can lead to explosive bacterial growth. Anaerobic oral bacteria emit sulfuric compounds that the nose associates with rotten eggs.
Rather than relying on a berry to prevent tooth decay, it is always advisable to brush the teeth twice a day, a regimen that is one of the most widely recommended ways to avoid cavities. Likewise, bad breath can be effectively treated with specialty mouth rinses or tablets that neutralize odor molecules and moisten the palate. Between that and brushing, holiday halitosis might not stand a chance.