People love to hear good news about their “guilty pleasures.” Eating or drinking dark chocolate is one of these. Without question, dark chocolate is connected with many beneficial effects, especially on the circulatory system. Within the last decade, the prevention of cavities has also been touted as a side effect of consuming chocolate. Is this really true, or is it more good news about “bad habits”?
What the Science Says on Dark Chocolate
It turns out that the studies on this subject are mixed in their results. The primary component of the cocoa bean that is believed to prevent cavities is theobromine, a type of organic compound called an alkaloid. Other well-known alkaloids include the medicines morphine and quinine, the infamously addictive drug nicotine, and even poisons such as strychnine. Speaking of poison, theobromine is also the reason why dogs and cats should not eat chocolate. Since these common pets digest this alkaloid very slowly, they are poisoned by ingesting too much.
As far back as 1964, a Swedish team studied the effect of theobromine and other plant substances for cavity prevention in hamsters. Although the chocolate bean extract did reduce cavities, it also slowed the hamsters’ growth! Therefore, some of the other substances tested, including vanillin and especially xanthine, were apparently more promising.
Later, a graduate student at Tulane University studied theobromine and its effect on dental enamel. Seeing promising results, he used theobromine with “other minerals” to produce a toothpaste without fluoride. Called Theodent, this toothpaste names various supporters in the dental community, including a dental scientist from the American Dental Association, and cites research sponsored by the company itself. Naturally, self-sponsored studies are somewhat problematic in the dental community, although the findings are certainly in line with the earlier hamster study.
On the other hand, a 2017 report from the Indiana University School of Dentistry suggests that theobromine “does not appear to offer any anti-caries benefit,” especially in comparison to fluoride. As is often the case in these discussions, only an unbiased comprehensive study examining the effects of theobromine on human subjects is likely to resolve the matter.
How to Use Chocolate for Your Health
If you want to consume dark chocolate for its health benefits, here are some important factors to consider:
- Unless you consume raw chocolate powder or unsweetened cocoa nibs, you are consuming sugar. Oral bacteria consume that sugar and then make the acid that ruins your teeth. Look for chocolate sources with low amounts of sugar.
- Processed chocolate can contain large amounts of fat. Compare the grams of saturated fat in various dark chocolates and select a source that minimizes fat consumption.
- Pay attention to the serving size. An entire chocolate bar is usually much more than one serving. Take this into account when reading the nutritional information label on your chocolate.
- Never use chocolate as a substitute for prescribed medicine. Consult with your doctor or dentist before changing any medications.
In the meantime, there are guaranteed ways to prevent cavities. Spend time on the website of the Sacramento Dentistry Group and you will see many of them (such as regularly brushing and flossing your teeth). For more information, make an appointment with our dentists and hygienists online or by calling 916-538-6900.