is chocolate really bad for your teeth?

This article considers the effects chocolate has on our oral health and tips on how to avoid damage caused by bad chocolate-eating habits.

is chocolate really bad for your teeth?

The short answer to the question is yes, chocolate is bad for your teeth.

It is very easy to make statements like this, however, it is possibly fair to say, that a fact matures best in a person’s mind (and hopefully motivates them for changing to healthier habits) if they know the reason behind it.

Therefore it is essential to talk about why chocolate is bad for your teeth. There are a few things to be aware of in consideration of the effect chocolate has on the teeth.

What happens in the mouth when you eat chocolate?

In a healthy mouth, there are bacteria naturally present. Some of these bacteria are the main component of plaque.

Plaque is a soft, white film that collects on the tooth surface.

Plaque is important to know about as it is a major causative factor for gingival and periodontal disease (better known as gum disease) and contributes to the development of dental caries (tooth decay).

Plaque forms constantly in the mouth. If not brushed away the plaque hardens and becomes calculus or tartar.

Did you know?

Calculus is impossible to remove by tooth brushing.

The intervention of the dental hygienist or a dentist is needed in order to scale it off the teeth.

The normal pH of the mouth is 6.8, which is neutral.

When we eat anything certain bacteria in the mouth feed on the carbohydrates (sugar) in the food and they produce acid.

This causes the pH of the mouth to drop, and when it reaches 5.5 something which is called an acid attack occurs.

During this important minerals leave the teeth leaving them weakened (this is called demineralisation).

Did you know?

pH is a number used to describe if an environment is alkaline or acidic.

Did you know?

The saliva in the mouth has the ability to help to replace important minerals in the teeth (remineralisation), but it takes about 30 to 60 minutes for this to happen.

The more often an acid attack happens the more weakened the tooth will become and eventually tooth decay develops.¹

Milk vs. dark

When it comes to chocolate, most of them contain quite a high amount of carbohydrates and they are especially the types, which are the most likely to have cariogenic (decay-causing) effects, e.g. glucose, and sucrose. Generally speaking, milk chocolate contains more sugar than the dark version.

There are a growing number of researchers looking into the health benefits of dark chocolate. Chocolate is made of cocoa (or cacao) beans. Cocoa contains compounds, which have antioxidant properties. Studies highlighted that cocoa has the potential to have positive effects on the health of your heart and brain.

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Some dark versions are advertised as ‘no added sugar’; however, you should not be misled by this promising statement. Even though according to the advert the chocolate is made of 100% cocoa beans you have to bear in mind that cocoa is a fruit and it does contain natural sugars.

Milk chocolates have considerably less cocoa content than dark chocolates, therefore if you can’t withstand the temptation, then you are better off choosing the dark version with the highest possible cocoa content for the general health reasons mentioned above.

In this case, it is fair to say that joining the dark side is the better option.

However, be mindful that any sugar content of any chocolate will have negative effects on your teeth.

Adding to that having too much sugar is not only bad for oral but general health as well. However, we all need some sugar because it gives us energy.

When you are eating sugary snacks you have to consider the following:

How much sugar do we need?

The recommended maximum daily amount is:

  • 4 to 6 years: 19 grams (= 5 sugar cubes)
  • 7 to 10 years: 24 grams (= 6 sugar cubes)
  • 11 years and older: 30 grams (= 7 sugar cubes)
is chocolate really bad for your teeth?

Generally speaking, 1 bar of chocolate could contain as much as 10-20 grams of sugar.

As you can see that doesn’t give too much leeway for eating chocolates if you are considering your recommended maximum daily amount of sugar.

Tips to take away

(looking at eating chocolate solely from the dental health perspective):

  • Ideally, the consumption of chocolate (or any sugary snack) should be at mealtimes. As mentioned before sugar triggers the demineralisation of the teeth, therefore limiting the sugary intake to mealtimes will help the mouth to recover and the teeth to remineralise in between.
  • The recommended number for consuming anything, which has a cariogenic effect, is 5 per day.
    This means breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks in between. When eating a bar of chocolate it is much better to have the whole bar in one sitting than to nibble on it throughout the day.
  • Try to avoid having sugary snacks before bedtime. Saliva is barely produced during sleep and its cleansing and neutralising effect is reduced greatly. Therefore if any traces of the sugary snack are left behind after tooth brushing the bacteria in the mouth will feed on that throughout the whole night causing damage to the teeth.
  • It is better to choose plain chocolate, which hasn’t got any added sticky ingredients, e.g. dried fruit, biscuits or toffee. These are sticking to the surface of the teeth and are almost impossible for the saliva to remove, while the chocolate melts away in the mouth making it easier and faster for the saliva to clean off.

To summarise, the key message of this article is that in order to look after the health of the teeth you need to be aware of the frequency and timing of chocolate consumption.

It is also advisable to choose the type of chocolate purchased carefully.

Chocolate is bad for your teeth and can be bad for your general health.

Enjoy chocolate responsibly!

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