Brushing, flossing, and using a mouth rinse remain the most effective ways to fight the bacteria that cause cavities and tooth decay. But if you want to go beyond the basics, studies have shown that some foods have anti-bacteria power. Just a word of warning though, just because the foods kill bacteria, doesn’t mean they’ll leave you with fresh breath.
Onions contain sulfur compounds that are responsible for their taste and smell. These compounds also help protect the plant as it grows from bacteria and fungi. There isn’t a lot of medical research available on onions’ benefits in tooth decay. The research that has been reported is promising. In a 2010 issue of the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, there is a report about findings by a Russian doctor that chewing raw onions for 2-3 minutes is enough to kill all the bacteria in the mouth. Korean researchers also found that raw onions killed four different strains of bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
If you like onions, adding a few rings to a salad might help keep the bacteria count down in your mouth, but too many raw onions will leave you with a breath problem.
Green tea has become popular as a healthy drink and there is a lot of research to support the health benefits. A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine shows that regularly drinking one cup of tea per day can prevent tooth loss in older adults. Catechins in green tea are known to kill mouth bacteria and there is other research that has shown green tea to be effective in preventing gum disease. The one major catch to this is that the green tea can’t have any sugar in it, because the sugar appears to neutralize any positive impact.
Basil contains many essential oils which are natural anti-biotics. Research into using basil oil to help kill bacteria in hospital settings has shown it is effective. This same anti-bacterial property is why basil is helpful in preventing tooth decay. Dry basil may not be as effective as fresh basil because much of the essential oil is lost in the drying process. Basil’s link to preventing tooth decay is strong enough that you can actually buy toothpaste made with basil. There’s no research on how this toothpaste compares to more traditional toothpaste found in the corner drug store.
Shiitake mushrooms have been shown in several research studies to be an effective anti-bacterial. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia found that a sugar called lentinan in Shiitake mushrooms prevents the growth of bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria do not feed on the lentinan like they would other sugars, so they don’t produce the acid that destroys tooth enamel. Interestingly, other researchers have attributed additional anti-bacterial properties to Shiitake mushrooms, saying the mushrooms actually disrupt the reproduction of the bacteria and prevent biofilm (the sticky protective coating that makes it harder to kill bacteria in your mouth) from forming.
This green horseradish is known as a sushi sauce and there is a reason the Japanese have been eating it for hundreds of years. The Japanese researcher who made the discovery only tested wasabi on the bacteria that cause tooth decay because of its history of being used to kill bacteria in uncooked sushi. The results were exactly what he expected. In a test tube, wasabi killed the bacteria. There are now wasabi-flavored toothpastes available, but they are more of a novelty product than something you would want to brush your teeth regularly with.
No Substitute for Good Cleaning Habits
Knowing that there are some foods out there that can help prevent tooth decay is interesting, but we don’t suggest changing your diet just for their anti-bacterial properties. These foods could all be included in a healthy diet. Eating nutritious and healthy foods, along with good cleaning habits will help you have strong teeth. Many fresh vegetables, foods low in sugar, and plenty of water are the best options for getting the vitamins and minerals that help your teeth stay strong. And no matter what you eat, you still need to keep a regular cleaning schedule or brushing, flossing, and possibly rinsing with mouthwash.