From Japan's Kyushu University comes a report of a new study published in this month's Journal of Periodontology that finds that eating yogurt may prevent gum disease.
Dr. Yoshihiro Shimazaki and colleagues have been trying to find out for several years whether any personal habits besides brushing and flossing might prevent, or accelerate, the development of gingivitis. In their latest study, the scientists assessed the severity of periodontal disease in over 940 men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 against their consumption of lactic acid foods such as yogurt and buttermilk. They also looked at consumption of whole and skim milk, and cheese.
The scientists learned that eating at least two ounces (56 g) of foods cultured with the friendly bacterium Lactobacillus significantly reduced the risk of severe gingivitis, that is, with pockets more than 2 mm (about 1/10 of an inch) deep in the gums. The benefits of Lactobacillus held even when the researchers accounted for differences in age, gender, frequency of tooth brushing, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
What the scientists did not find was a protective role for consumption of milk and cheese. These foods seem to feed the bacteria that attack the gums. Only yogurt and similar foods were helpful. It's well known that acidity produced by Lactobacilli kills E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella.
Which other foods contain lactic acid? Here is a partial list:
Cottage cheese, especially the mass-produced kind which is preserved with the acid,
Sourdough breads, especially sourdough rye, and
Wheat beers (especially lambic).
The protective chemical also occurs in sauerkraut and salami, and wiener makers use it to give hot dogs (frankfurters) a firmer texture than the meats from which they are made. The researchers did not, however, find that eating these foods protected gums or teeth.
Yogurt is your best bet. As little as one-quarter cup (about 60 g) of yogurt a day may help protect teeth and gums from chronic bacterial infection.