Milk and Teeth Health: Are Milk Products Good for Your Teeth?

milk and teeth health post

Are milk and cheese good for your child’s teeth? The advice on eating milk and cheese products for the health of your child’s teeth has changed.  Find out what’s behind milk and teeth health.

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What does it mean to be lactose intolerant?

Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese contain a type of sugar called lactose. Although dairy is a staple of many diets, at least 70% of adults worldwide have trouble digesting lactose.

The severity of lactose intolerance varies from person to person. Some people can drink a full glass of milk without experiencing indigestion. Other people, will feel uncomfortable after just one bite of cheese. Also, some people’s personal experiences do not match their genetic result. This is because there can be many other factors. Included are diet, digestive system, additional genetic variants, and health conditions. In short, all of these things can impact whether you experience symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Image displaying a glass of milk, pitcher of milk , and a carafe of milk. Helping promote the question regarding milk and teeth healh.

Growing out of milk

Just about everybody is born with the ability to digest lactose, and this allows babies to live and grow by drinking their mother’s milk. It has long been thought that milk and teeth health had a very strong correlation. But, as children grow older and begin to eat different foods, many of them lose that digestive ability. People become lactose intolerant because their bodies stop producing lactase. The enzyme that digests lactose. The ability to continue producing lactase after childhood has evolved multiple times in different populations across the world whenever a group of people depended on milk and dairy products as important sources of nutrition.

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Can people who are lactose intolerant eat cheese?

Not all cheese is created equal. In fact, some kinds of cheese contain almost no lactose! Here are a few tips for choosing low-lactose cheeses:

  • Check the label. Lactose is a kind of sugar. If the nutrition label says a cheese has 0 grams of sugar, then it has very little lactose (according to current FDA standards, less than half a gram per serving).
  • Age is your friend. Because aging cheese lowers its lactose content, aged cheese (like cheddar) is likely to be low in lactose.
  • Beware of processed products. Processed cheese products or cheese spreads often have relatively high lactose content because of lactose added during processing.

Milk and Teeth Health: Digestion and Indigestion

We can blame most symptoms of lactose intolerance on the bacteria that live in our intestines. A healthy digestive system is a home to trillions of bacteria. Which, help to digest the food we eat. But, when a person who doesn’t produce lactase eats or drinks dairy products, intestinal bacteria will start digesting the lactose instead. Ultimately, this will produce gases that lead to bloating, abdominal discomfort, and flatulence. This type of GI imbalance will affect overall health, ultimately affecting dental health.

You can increase strains of bacteria that help process lactose in milk. In general, this can be done by taking probiotic supplements that contain strains of the Lactobacillus bacteria.

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Evolution in action

For a certain percentage of the population, taking supplements will not help. This is due to a certain genetic composition.

Your DNA determines whether you can produce lactase after childhood, a trait known as “lactase persistence.” Research suggests that ancient humans were lactose intolerant, and different genetic variants associated with lactase persistence evolved at different times in different parts of the world. Some people have this genetic variation and simply can not make the lactase enzyme. Those people are truly lactose intolerant. This may mean that if you are truly lactose intolerant, milk and teeth health may not go together. You certainly won’t be drinking milk, to benefit your teeth!

In conclusion:

Milk products are not for everyone and if they do create GI problems, this will ultimately impact overall health. At this point, it is no longer beneficial for dental health. You will have to go with your “gut” on this one. While milk and teeth health are important, think about overall health first, and foremost. If drinking milk causes problems, chances are you are doing more harm than good. Therefore, skip the milk!

Image of Dr. Kathryn Alderman. Dr. Kathryn Alderman wrote this blog explaining milk and teeth health. She practices at Nebrasks Family Dentistry.

This article was written by Dr. Kathryn Alderman. She is a biological dentist for Nebraska Family Dentistry. She practices mainly at Preserve Family Dentistry, the East Location of NFD.

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