The importance of dairy on dental health

Dairy foods including milk, yoghurt and cheese have a specific role to play in dental health.1,2They contain a unique combination of special anti-decay and protective nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and the protein, casein.3 Casein, when combined with calcium and phosphorus in saliva, can assist with remineralisation of tooth enamel by providing a protective film over the tooth, reducing the risk of decay.4,5Studies show that milk, yoghurt and hard cheese are not linked to dental erosion.6,7In addition, research has also shown calcium, casein and whey are inversely associated with periodontitis (gum disease) in adults.8

Milk has been linked to decreased risk of cavities, making it a good drink choice between meals. Milk, naturally contains the sugars lactose and galactose, which are regarded as less cariogenic than other sugars, especially when they are accompanied by calcium in dairy products which can counter potential damage to teeth.9Flavoured milks are a good alternative to sugar sweetened beverages (soft drinks, sports drinks, cordials etc.) or juices as they are non-acidic and contain teeth-friendly nutrients.10

The following figure shows the erosive nature of different drinks:

11

Like milk, yoghurt also has a negligible or low impact on tooth decay if the sugar content is 5% or less.12 As food labels in Australia list ‘total sugars’ as opposed to ‘added sugars’ (and because milk and yoghurt naturally contain lactose), look for flavoured milks and flavoured yoghurt that contain 10g per 100mL or less of ‘total sugars’.

Studies have also shown eating hard cheese is linked to decreased risk of dental cavities and erosion. Eating a small piece of cheese after consuming sugary food or drink is recommended to help protect teeth and reduce the risk of tooth decay – this is because cheese helps to stimulate salivary flow which neutralises the acid pH of the mouth following exposure to sugar.13

Despite these benefits to dental health, only one quarter of females and half of the Australian adult male population met their calcium requirements in the latest National Health Survey.14 Milk, yoghurt and cheese are the richest sources of calcium in the Australian diet,15 however most Australians need to increase their daily serves to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommendations.

Other tips for good dental health include:

  1. See a dentist for a check-up at least once a year

  2. Always use a fluoridated toothpaste

  3. Do not add sugar or sweeteners to babies’ bottles or food and don’t put it on babies’ pacifiers (dummies)

  4. Never put a baby to bed sucking a bottle (unless it is filled with only water).




1 Li H, Zou Y, Ding G. Dietary factors associated with dental erosion: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42626.

2 Bowen W. Effects of dairy products on oral health. Scand J Food Nutr. 2002;46(4):178-9.

3 Merritt J, Qi F, Shi W. Milk helps build strong teeth and promotes oral health. J Calif Dent Assoc. 2009;34(5):361-6.

4 Danielsson Niemi L, Hernell O, Johansson I. Human milk compounds inhibiting adhesion of mutans streptococci to host ligand-coated hydroxyapatite in vitro. I Caries Res. 2009;43(3):171-8.

5 Llena C, Forner L, Baca P. Anticariogenicity of casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate: a review of the literature. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2009;10(3):1-9.

6 Li H, Zou Y, Ding G. Dietary factors associated with dental erosion: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42626.

7 Moynihan P, Petersen P. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of dental diseases. Public Health Nutr. 2004;7(1a).

8 Adegboye A, Boucher B, Kongstad J, Fiehn N, Christensen L, Heitmann B. Calcium, vitamin D, casein and whey protein intakes and periodontitis among Danish adults. Public Health Nutr. 2015;19(03):503-10.

9 Ravishankar TI, et al. Effect of consuming different dairy products on calcium, phosphorus and pH levels of human dental plaque: a comparative study. Eur Arch Paediatr Dent. 2002;13:144-8.

10 Levine R. Milk, flavoured milk products and caries. Br Dent J. 2001;191(1):20.

11 Adapted from: Government of Western Australia. When you need a drink – a guide for choosing drinks for children and adults. Department of Health, Dental Services, Como, 2008. Available: http://www.dental.wa.gov.au/info/pamphlets/nutrition/when%20you%20need%20a%20drink.pdf

12 Levine R. Milk, flavoured milk products and caries. Br Dent J. 2001;191(1):20.

13 Kashket S, DePaola D. Cheese consumption and the development and progression of dental caries. Nutr Rev. 2002;60(4):97-103.

14 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015.  Australian Health Survey: Usual Nutrient Intakes, 2011-12. Cat. 4364.0.55.008. [updated 2015 Apr 27; cited 2016 Feb 15]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.008~2011-12~Main%20Features~Key%20findings~100

15 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015. Australian Health Survey: Usual Nutrient Intakes, 2011-2012. Cat 4364.0.55.008. [updated 2015 Apr 27; cited 2016 Feb 15]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.008~2011-12~Main%20Features~Calcium~401