Can Drinking Tea Prevent Cavities?

Feb 26, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats

Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. It’s also known for its health benefits, including cancer prevention, improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and prevention of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Less well-known, however, is its cavity-fighting power.

Drinking tea has a threefold effect in reducing your risk of cavities between your regular checkups.

Antibacterial Action

The tea we’re discussing here is the most common tea, from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis. Most of the tea you drink, other than herbal tea, is made from different variants of this plant. Many of its health benefits come from the presence of polyphenols-flavonoids-catechins, antioxidants that have long been studied for their potential role in cancer prevention.

Catechins attack the cell membranes of bacteria, destroying the cells. These effects aren’t limited to in-lab exposure, either. The antibacterial effect of catechins on Escherichia coli, Streptococcus mutans, and S. sobrinus, oral bacteria that play a significant role in cavity creation and gum disease, occurs at levels found in brewed tea. Of course, researchers note that bacteria in plaque have more protection against antibacterial agents than those used in studies.

Preventing Starch Breakdown into Sugars

Another important effect of tea is that it inhibits the action of amylase, an enzyme that encourages the breakdown of starches into sugars. Normally, the process of breaking down starches in the mouth takes place very quickly, resulting in starchy foods like bread and potato chips quickly turning into sugar in the mouth. These sugars are readily consumed by bacteria, which then secrete acid byproducts that break down your tooth enamel.

Tea can inhibit the action of amylases in your saliva and those produced by bacteria.

Inhibiting Acid Production

Tea can also prevent bacteria from turning sugars into acids. One of the catechins in tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown to reduce the amount of acid bacteria produce when used as a mouth rinse about every half hour. Although the effect has been proven at levels of EGCG higher than found in brewed green tea (2 mg/mL vs. 1 mg/mL), it has been suggested that the repeated exposure associated with drinking a cup of tea as opposed to a simple mouth rinse may produce a similar effect.

Getting the Best Effect from Your Tea

Here are some tips for maximizing the preventive value of tea.

Drink your tea without sugar. Adding sugar to tea can fuel bacterial action and overbalance the benefits of tea’s inhibitory actions.

Drink green tea most of the time. Green tea has more catechins, which are responsible for antibacterial action and inhibiting acid production.

Drink black tea with starchy foods. Black tea contains more tannins–which inhibit amylase–than green tea. And only black tea contains theaflavins, which have a strong inhibitory effect on amylase.

However, there is one negative to drinking tea for cavity prevention. Tea stains your teeth. Although black tea contains more staining compounds, green tea contains them, too, and either type will lead to stained teeth. Fortunately, tea stains do respond well to teeth whitening.

For help maintaining your oral health, including more at-home hygiene hacks, please contact Grapevine Dental Care in Grapevine, Texas today.