Ask someone to name a food associated with good dental health, and you’re apt to hear “dairy.” You can thank its calcium content and decades of advertising for that.
Calcium is one of the key minerals needed to keep tooth enamel strong. (Magnesium and phosphorous are the two other biggies.) And some research has suggested that it might play a role in maintaining healthy gums, as well.
But a new study in PLoS ONE suggests that it may not be the calcium at all but probiotics in fermented dairy products such as yogurt.
Researchers analyzed periodontal and nutritional data from over 6100 Korean adults. They found that those who ate less yogurt had more gum disease than others. Those who consumed less milk or calcium, on the other hand, didn’t exhibit more periodontal issues.
In conclusion, periodonitis was significantly associated with the less intake of yogurt among the Korean adults, but the calcium contained in yogurt is not likely to cause it.
What makes yogurt different, of course, is its probiotic content – helpful microbes that help defend against disease – and previous research appears to support this.
Of course, yogurt is hardly the only source of probiotics. Fermented foods of all kinds can be wonderful additions to your diet. These include kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, lassi, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, kefir, miso, and fermented cod liver oil.
Naturally fermented foods have been proven to show many benefits in cultures around the world. According to one recent paper in Frontiers in Microbiology, for instance,
The highest longevity observed among the people of Okinawa prefecture in Japan is mostly due to their traditional and cultural foods such as natto, miso, tofu, shoyu, fermented vegetables, cholesterol-free, low-fat, and high bioactive-compounded foods in addition to active physical activity, sound environment, happiness and other several factors.
Probiotics can also be taken with prebiotics (a/k/a synbiotics) for an even bigger impact. According to research in the Journal of Medicine and Life,
It appears that synbiotics increase survival of probiotic bacteria, stimulating their growth in the intestinal tract and improving the balance of health-promoting bacteria.
Good dietary sources of prebiotics include raw asparagus, raw garlic, onion (both raw and cooked), raw dandelion greens, raw leeks, under-ripe bananas, raw chicory root, and raw Jerusalem artichokes. (Why so much raw? Cooking can break down a lot of the helpful elements in some prebiotic foods.)
Pro- and prebiotics can be an easy addition to your daily routine for improving oral and systemic health alike, physical and mental. Maybe consider grabbing a bottle of kombucha for your next holiday party rather than that bottle of wine.