All dairy products are provider of calcium and phosphorous which are essential to the development and maintenance of healthy teeth.
However cheese and milk are known to contain specific factors believed to protect against dental caries and are known as anticariogenic, in fact cheese is considered to be one of the most anticariogenic of all foods.
The anticariogenic properties of cheese have been well studied and several mechanisms have been suggested to explain how cheese helps to protect our teeth:
- Studies have found that consuming cheese may help to reduce damaging increases in acidity of plaque surrounding teeth.
- Cheese delivers large amounts of calcium and phosphorous to the mouth which helps to replace the minerals lost through acidic damage (demineralisation).
- Consumption of cheese is thought to help promote the deposition of minerals such as calcium and phosphorous in teeth (remineralisation) and to increase the strength of tooth enamel.
- Studies have found that consuming cheese either alone or as part of a cooked, mixed meal, increases the concentration of calcium in the plaque around our teeth. This helps to reduce and replace the calcium lost when teeth come under attack from acids produced in the mouth. It has been shown that eating cheese after repeated consumption of acidic drinks can return the levels of calcium in the plaque to pre-drink levels.
- Cheese causes us to produce more saliva in the mouth which helps to clear food and reduce the amount of sugar present for fermentation and acid production by mouth bacteria. Saliva also helps to neutralise the acid that is formed, and can help to inhibit the action of plaque bacteria helping to reduce acid production and damage.
- As with milk, the casein present in cheese helps to protect tooth enamel by forming a thin film, on the tooth surface which prevents damage.
Therefore, encouraging people to consume cheese in-between, with or after meals and sugary drinks/snacks may help to prevent tooth decay.
Lactose maldigestion or intolerance describes a reduced ability to digest the milk sugar - lactose - due to low levels of the enzyme, lactase, in the gut.
In people who have this condition, consumption of certain amounts of lactose tends to produce symptoms such as bloating, production of gas, stomach cramps and diarrhoea which can be painful and unpleasant.
For this reason dairy products are often avoided by this section of the population and this can compromise requirements for nutrients such as calcium and phosphorous towards which dairy products make a significant dietary contribution.
Evidence has shown that regular consumption of small amounts of dairy foods such as milk, as part of a meal, can be well tolerated and may even improve symptoms.
However, as previously mentioned cheese has particularly low lactose content compared with other dairy foods. It is therefore well tolerated by those who suffer with lactose maldigestion or lactose intolerance and provides them with the nutrients in dairy foods.
Concern has been raised in the past over possible links between intake cheese and increased risk of constipation.
However there is no scientific evidence to support this belief and several studies show that intake of cheese has no effect on intestinal function.